- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
In manner, Hardy is reserved, quiet and impeccably polite, given over to "Yes, sir" and "Thank you, ma'am." Archer Jack Hoffarth recalls one night several years ago when he and another archer were out for a late stroll after the first day of a tournament. "We were walking past a playground," he says, "and we heard these noises. I asked who was there, and a voice came back, 'It's me, sir, Hardy Ward. I couldn't sleep, so I decided to do some exercises.' I looked more closely and, sure enough, there was Hardy climbing the monkey bars."
There has been no parental pressure on Hardy to take up the arrow and the bow—no intense coaching starting at age 3. Hardy did not get interested in archery until he was 5, when his parents bought him a $6 bow for his birthday. For the next seven years Hardy's shooting was restricted to the backyard, where he riddled milk cartons filled with sand, and to the woods and fields, where he picked off jackrabbits darting through the brush, as well as deer, squirrels, possum and birds.
"We didn't have any idea how good he was," recalls his father, "so we all piled into the car and took him to a tournament in Arkansas to find out. It was field archery, where you shoot at targets simulating animals. He had never shot any targets like this. We promised him a new bow if he shot 400 on the last round. Hardy was only 12, and he hadn't done too well the first day, but one of the older archers noticed that his arrows were all bent. He straightened them out, and then Hardy went out and shot 518—a junior national field record—the first time he ever tried the last course." Before long, Hardy was practicing daily and traveling from one tournament to another. He won so many first-place trophies that a corner of the house had to be set aside for them.
Then came disaster. "I froze," he recalls. "I was 15 and I couldn't shoot anymore. It got so bad that I decided to use a clicker on my bow. It was either that or stop shooting." A clicker is a little metal arm through which the arrow is drawn as the archer pulls back the string. It enables him to concentrate on aiming. A good aim is wasted if the archer cannot always draw the arrow back, the same distance on each shot. If his draw is merely one-eighth of an inch longer than usual, he is apt to be several feet out of the gold, or bull's-eye, at 90 meters. A clicker permits him to draw back almost all the way, aim and then, when that last fraction of an inch of the arrow tip slips through the metal arm and causes a clicking sound, he knows it is time to fire.
"Hardy was the first to win a national title with a clicker," says Earl Hoyt, owner of the Hoyt Archery Company, which makes the bows used by most of the world's leading marksmen. "The clicker has been the single most important factor in improved scores and in the retention of archers in the sport. You see, at some time or other every archer runs into the problem of freezing. He just can't shoot right, and the harder he tries, the worse he gets. Until Hardy popularized the clicker, freezing was something like a terminal disease."
Most archers now use clickers, including some of the youngsters who are on the U.S. team. Three of the four members are teen-agers: Ward, 16-year-old Steve Lieberman of Reading, Pa. and 15-year-old John Williams of Cranesville, Pa. The fourth is Ray Rogers, 32, of Muskogee, Okla., who in 1967 beat out Ward for the U.S. title and won the world championship.
"I really want this world championship," Ward says. "I would have won at 17 if they hadn't made a rule change the day before the competition started. All of a sudden they decided it was illegal to use peep sights with calibrations or magnification. It was like learning how to shoot all over again. But Al Muller fixed them. He showed up with calibrations marked on the lens of one of his eyeglasses. The officials noticed, and they got all excited. It was all in fun. Al is blind in one eye, and all he had done was to put some meaningless markings on his glasses and he had people hopping up and down all over.
"After the first day I was in 27th place. The blisters on my right hand broke—I had practiced too much the day before trying to get used to shooting without my regular sight—and each time I shot, the blood flew. By the time I was done shooting, my white shirt (archers must wear all-white uniforms during international matches) was covered with red. My fingers screamed, but I shot a world championship one-round-record 1,179 and moved up to second place with two arrows to go. Then somebody behind me clicked a motorized camera just as I was getting ready for my next-to-the-last shot. I thought it was my clicker, and I let go too soon and got only a seven. I got a 10 on my last shot, but I lost second place by one point. I was really disappointed that I didn't win at 17. If I win at 19, well, I just feel that somebody younger will come along and win some day. Why not? Kids are doing it in all other sports."
One such youngster is Johnny Williams, a high schooler who finished first at the U.S. tryouts in St. Louis and also set world records, shooting 1,242 in a single day and scoring 320 at 70 meters. As spectacular as Williams was, it was Hardy Ward who caused even more of a sensation at the trials in June. To be able to compete for the U.S. in the forthcoming world championship, Hardy had to finish at least fourth. As it turned out, he barely earned the fourth spot on the team, but he overcame so many misfortunes in doing so that his feats have become archery legend.
His woes began a week before the try-outs when he was playing golf on a pitch-and-putt course with his girl. Hardy's father explains what happened this way: "She hit the ball over a fence and Hardy tried to show off for her by jumping over the fence, and when he did he sprung his ankle." What he "sprung" were ligaments in his right foot, and the injury hobbled him badly.