Tenkiller Public School prides itself on its archery program, and while it’s more of an after-school club than an actual team, it’s a space where youngsters learn lessons in life and learn a skill they can use for the rest of their lives.

The archery program is led by Tenkiller Principal Kenneth Thornton. He is descended from archers and craftsmen who influenced the way archery is viewed within the Cherokee Nation.

His grandfather, Joe Thornton, was a Cherokee archer and world champion, who died in 2019 at the age of 102. In 1960 he won the world championship in Oslo, Norway and set three world records. In 2016, Cherokee Nation created the Joe Thornton Archery Range in his honor.

The director’s father, Ken, is also an archer and craftsman who makes bows and arrows using traditional Cherokee techniques. He is a champion archer in his own right, having won the Cherokee Nation corn stalk shot when he was just 16 during the Cherokee National Day.

“He is cutting flint. Every time I kill a turkey, I bring it to her to take care of the wing feathers. It’s part of our family heritage,” Thornton said.

Since Tenkiller School is home to so many citizens of the Cherokee Nation, Thornton feels it is important to offer archery.

The students are preparing to participate in the Archery in Schools program meeting, which will take place later this year.

“The kids love going there. They buy T-shirts and we take them out to eat. It’s good to get them to see other people shooting and to go somewhere nice. it’s fun for them,” Thornton said.

Students meet after school every Wednesday to practice. Thornton said some of the kids are getting pretty good.

“It’s something that can be competitive. You need to concentrate and concentrate on what you are doing. There are a lot of safety rules,” he said.

Thornton said archery offers many life skills because it teaches discipline, and it’s something students will take with them for the rest of their lives.

“They understand that they are using a weapon that can kill. There is a process that they learn. You can’t run marathons or play football for the rest of your life, but you can do archery. You can do archery forever,” he said.