A ‘Hunger’ for Archery

Mel Leach with targetLong Before “The Hunger Games” books and movies broke onto the popular consciousness, professor emerita of kinesiology Mel Leach served as archery’s driving force at LBSU and throughout California.

Leach, whose background in playing and coaching women’s basketball included UC Santa Barbara, arrived on the LBSU campus in 1968. She hoped to use her experience as a stepping-stone to joining the staff of Long Beach State’s vaunted women’s basketball team, coached by Fran Schaafsma and Dixie Grimmett. While she did serve as a volunteer assistant coach with the team, Leach’s primary position was to teach sailing, bowling, self-defense and archery. The latter became her lifelong passion.

“It’s almost as if archery is in our DNA,” Leach commented. “Why do we still have archery after 10,000 years? There’s something almost spiritual about connecting with that bow and to trying to get that perfect shot off.”

During the 1960s, archery was considered a women’s physical education class, and Leach’s only equipment consisted of women’s bows from the 1940s. Undaunted, she used her limited resources to teach archery skills to both men and women. In the late ’90s at a time when Kinesiology funding was available, she drafted a set of blueprints and persuaded the department to sanction construction of an archery building. Today, LBSU holds the honor of providing the longest continuously functioning full collegiate archery program in the nation.

According to the history of the archery program, written by Heather Wantuch, LBSU’s archery program and Leach hold numerous distinctions, including 18 All-American and countless West All-Regional archers. From 1965 to 2008, Leach started the College State Outdoor and Indoor Championships, the Beach Cup and the long-running Southern California Archery Conference. She also coached over 600 students who became members of the LBSU competitive team, while more than 3,400 LBSU students have passed through her archery classes.

Along with her contributions to other Southern California and western college archery programs, such as CSU Fullerton, San Diego State University, Stanford University, Scottsdale and Northern Arizona, she was heavily involved in establishing the College Division of the National Archery Association. In 1984, she tried out for the Olympics and finished in fifth place. She also served as an Olympic volunteer for the L. A. and Atlanta games.

Mel Leach shooting Now, after 45 years of dedication to the sport, Leach is still going strong. Following a five-year stint in the Faculty Early Retirement Program, she has remained on the campus as a part-time lecturer and continues to maintain the building and equipment. She also teaches archery and bowling for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and participates in senior and masters archery competitions. For four years, she served on the California Senior Games board of directors.

“I’m keeping busy, doing what I love, which is to teach,” Leach said. “When they put me under, I’ll still be teaching.”

To help celebrate LBSU archery’s 50th anniversary and Leach’s legacy, a grand festival will be held on April 11-12, offering a major reunion of past and present archers, tours of the archery complex and campus, the latest tackle and Olympic shooting demonstrations, and concluding with a special recognition dinner.

“We want to invite all the students, and club and team members to come back in April and take part in the celebration, which is going to tie in with the College of Health and Human Services Wellness Week,” Leach said.

For more information about LBSU archery’s 50th anniversary celebration, e-mail chhs-events@csulb.edu or call 562.985.5434.

Arrows1. There are 18.1 million archers around the world, 42 percent of which are women.

2. The bow appears to have been invented in the later Paleolithic or early Mesolithic period.

3. Archery is included as a sport for the Olympic (debuting in 1900), Paralympic, Asian and Commonwealth Games.

4. Roving marks is the oldest form of competitive archery, as practiced by King Henry VIII of England.

5. Deities and heroes in several mythologies are described as archers, including the Greek Artemis and Apollo, the Roman Diana and Cupid, the Germanic Agilaz, continuing in legends like those of Wilhelm Tell, Palnetoke or Robin Hood.