When I first came to Princeton, I was convinced there must be a secret underground archery team. I had talked to numerous campus officials, administrators and even students who told me “It sounds familiar” or “I think I’ve heard of them”, and foolish pre-frosh me was too naïve to realize that admissions officers were simply telling me what I wanted to hear. By far, the biggest fallacy I was told repeatedly was “Even if we don’t have a team, you can always start one. It’s really easy to start clubs at Princeton!”
And so, come September, I found myself wandering aimlessly through the activities fair, dodging flyers and aggressive upperclassmen, until I somehow wound up in the Sport Clubs Office. That’s when someone finally told me the hard truth: Princeton did not have an archery program, nor would it probably ever have one.
Three years after hearing that denial, we are heading to Nationals. Despite this, the process of founding the archery team has been an arduous one, and I have faced more rejection in the process than I have anywhere else. When I first approached the director of club sports, he told me no. Even, when I tried talking with more flexible administrators, they ultimately kept pointing me back to club sports, which repeatedly turned down ideas again, and again, and again. Practicing on campus was too dangerous, owning equipment was too much of a liability and giving funding to our team would take away funding from other teams. But facing rejection is what being an athlete is all about. You have to learn how to miss the target multiple times, refocus and start shooting bull’s-eyes.
Learning to overcome challenges is one of the main reasons I wanted to bring archery to Princeton. Archery taught me how to face failure and especially how to perform under pressure, a skill every Princeton student grapples with. It made me a better student and a better person.
That’s why I was so surprised that the University was so adamantly opposed to the creation of a club archery team. Physically, archery is one of the safest sports, with a lower accident rate than even golf. Emotionally, the team was meant to be a haven from all the Princeton craziness, a place where students didn’t have to be judged and where students could gain something from simply being part of the team. The best part about archery is that you don’t have to be fast or strong. Some natural ability can help, but all you really need to excel is focus and dedication. It seemed like a perfect fit for Princeton students.
Instead, we got into a vicious cycle: we couldn’t be sanctioned by the University without holding practices, we couldn’t hold practices without equipment, we couldn’t get equipment without being sanctioned. Help finally came not from the University, but from random community members who agreed to let us use their facilities, even though they had absolutely no obligation to help or even any reason to trust us with their equipment at all. When a random community member is willing to talk with you for over an hour on the phone, but University officials can’t even take 30 seconds to reply to an email, it is clear that there is a problem with the system.
The problem traces back to an unwillingness to take risks. Princeton fears the rejection that so many of us have to deal with, and so they refuse to support new teams until the teams have already shown they will be successful. Some teams take international training trips every year, while we went to our first tournament wearing orange t-shirts colored with sharpies because we lacked funding for real uniforms. Archery was only listed as a club sport on Princeton’s website six months after we had our own website. If Princeton wants to advertise itself as a place where students can found new organizations, it needs to actually provide funding and assistance to teams that are struggling, instead of rewarding teams that are already successful. Now that we have found off-campus practice space, off-campus storage space and begun our own fundraising, the Sport Clubs Office has provided us with more resources.
At Nationals in five weeks, realistically, our team is probably going to be crushed by other college teams with real funding, real coaches and real equipment, but frankly, I don’t care. Our team is about persistence, dedication, and no judgment, not about getting trophies. And who knows? Maybe we will win. If there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s not giving up, a principle Princeton should be embracing and not shunning.
Anjalie Field is a computer science major from Haverford, Pa. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.