By Cecilia Chan
GSN Managing Editor

How to Help: To help send the Arete Preparatory Academy Middle School student archery tema to the 2019 Open and Champions Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, go to gofundme.com/f/8qmpu-help-arete-prep-archery-team-get-to-worlds

For 14-year-old Ethan Bowles, archery is more than just shooting an arrow at a bullseye.

“It’s helped me make friends and strengthen friendships,” Ethan said. “I feel calm and confident, and it’s really cool.”

Ethan and fellow members of the archery team at Arete Preparatory Academy Middle School in Gilbert have qualified to compete in the 2019 Open and Champions Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, on July 25-27. There, they will go head-to-head with 5,200 students for prizes and scholarship money for college at the National Archery in the Schools Program event.

The in-school archery program aims at improving educational performance among students in grades 4-12 by teaching them focus, self-control, discipline, patience and the life lessons required to be successful in the classroom and in life, according to the program’s website.

“We really foster education first and sports second,” coach George Portillo said. “These kids are so smart. They go and look up and find out why did my arrow do this and look at it mathematically how to change it. They want to find out the theory behind archery, and that is what really helped us excel and get to this point. With sports, we do more than shoot bows and arrows. We foster team work and confidence-building.”

But for many team members, however, getting to Tennessee is a feat in itself due to the expense – including for travel, lodgings, food and entry fees. Seven students who qualified already opted out because of the cost, according to Portillo.

The nine team members who are going are Ethan, Matthew Evans, Kyra Kelly, Deven Lipp, Jared Phillips, Aubrey Portillo, Sean Widner, Quinn Brady and Zachary Vandercook.

The team members who qualified but can’t go are Emma Annest, Max Keith, Mason Keith, Joseph Restivo, Mary Salanski, Autumn Veselovsky and Lauren Veselovsky.

Portillo has set up a GoFundMe account with the goal of raising $6,000. He also is looking for business sponsorships.

“We’re not looking for a free ride,” he said. “We are looking to make it less than a burden on people in families that have committed.”

As of last week, the GoFundMe account received over $600. One round-trip airline ticket alone was $600 per student.

“We hope the $6,000 will cover most of the cost for students themselves,” Portillo said. “The idea was once we get the $6,000, we would divide it among the kids and hopefully it will cover the airplane tickets for them and help alleviate some pressure from the financial aspect of it.

“The parents are paying for themselves and I’m paying for myself.”

Portillo said Arete Preparatory is at a disadvantage asking for money.

“People look at us and say, ‘It’s a charter school; they have money,’” he said. “Not all charter schools have money. There’s every walk of life at that school. We have kids that are from very, very low income to parents that are well off on my team. I have people that are really struggling. Because we are a public charter, we rely on lot of the community to pay for athletics and things we need. Believe me, at the end of the year we are working with a shoestring budget.”

Portillo said the school has helped the team with its $900 entry fee at April’s Western National Tournament in Salt Lake City – that qualified the team for Tennessee –  covered the students’ transportation to competitions, uniforms and equipment during the academic year.

“The school does its fair share,” he said. “But they never thought we would be getting to where we are.”

Portillo, a stay-at-home dad who has kids at Arete, was asked by the school two years ago to coach the team.

“I’ve been involved in archery for 30 years and shot semi-professionally,” he said. “I used to go around the country to shoot at tournaments and loved doing it.”

During his first year as a volunteer, he coached then-8th-grader and first-time archery student Ciara Glackin all the way to the 2018 World Archery Championship, renamed this year as the Open and Champions Tournament.

Arete – previously known as Mesa Preparatory Academy before it became a Great Hearts school, and moved to Gilbert – has had the archery program in place for about 10 years.

Portillo’s leadership has grown the program at the school and he was named NASP’s Coach of the Year for 2019 for Arizona.

Portillo said students are hustling to raise money for the trip through babysitting, yard sales or, in Ethan’s case, baking cake pops. 

Ethan expected to be in kitchen for three days filling orders.

“You have to make the cake and mix the dough from the cake and roll it out and put sticks in it,” he explained. “It’s hard but it pays off.”

His cake pops sell for three for $5 and come in two flavors, birthday cake and chocolate.

Mom Maggie Kurachi said when Ethan wanted to join the archery team she told him she could help with only half of the costs, such as the annual $250 school athletic fee and registration costs to the meets.

“I’m a single mom of five kids,” she explained. “I know parents who are in a similar situation as mine. People assume our school is a wealthy school, and it’s not. There’s definitely some wealthy people there, like any school.”

She said Ethan was so passionate about his athletic pursuit that he saved money to buy a $300 bow. Because the team has a limited number of bows, students have to share, which cuts into their practice time.

Ethan’s bow, however, was stolen just before he left for nationals.

Kurachi said she’s seen positive changes in her son since he’s taken up archery and become one of the team’s top scorers.

Namely, his accomplishment in the sport gave him the nerve to stand up being bullied in school, she said.

“I feel like Ethan gained confidence, self-respect,” she said. “He wasn’t aggressive about it, but he was assertive about sticking up for himself. It definitely boosted his confidence. He’s able to tell people he’s gone to nationals and qualified for world. That is huge. He’s worked so hard to be in archery and I’m so proud.”

Kurachi said her son’s registration fee for the tournament has been paid with the understanding there would be no refund if they don’t come up with the money for the trip.

Portillo said he will find a way to get the students to the tournament if their fundraising comes up short.

“The means of travel will be different, we’ll be driving instead of flying,” he said. “These kids worked so hard to get to where they are at. We will do whatever we have to, to get there.”