Almost every boy likes to play action hero. Eric Tomlinson was no different. The 9-year-old was enamored by those classic cowboys and Indians programs on TV and wanted either a bow or a gun, so his mother went with a bow and arrow set.
“I’ve been shooting archery just about all my life,” Tomlinson says. After graduating from Western High School, Tomlinson enrolled at Wayne State University, but left before completing his degree.
That year and a half was pivotal in Tomlinson developing what he calls a “business mentality,” yet he would work for Dave Bing for 27 years before branching out with his own business venture. Post-retirement, Tomlinson was casting about for a worthy second act – and archery became the obvious choice.
For one, in that time, he had never stopped practicing, and more importantly, he discovered that kids could earn four-year archery scholarships. He decided he wanted to work with Detroit kids.
“Never knew that in my future I was going to be teaching people how to do that – and I was self-taught,” Tomlinson says. “I went into teaching archery in 2002 and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Elite Archery Academy, LLC classes are offered four days a week – Monday through Thursday, Saturday and Sunday – and are open to individuals ages “7 to 99,” Tomlinson adds. “I have so many adults who tell me they wanted to shoot archery when they were young,” he says. “I would say (the class age range is) 50-50 right now. Fifty percent of adults and the other, children.”
Tomlinson has the only outdoor archery range in the city of Detroit, located in Rouge Park, where he says he keeps the grass cut and trains his most promising students how to shoot a long-distance range of about 77 meters (“the length of a football field”), an Olympic standard for those aiming for it.
First, he trains students indoors to shoot 20 yards. Archery teaches the kids hand and eye coordination, as well as memorization, an important skill not just for tournaments but schoolwork as well. “They have to learn how to score their own score cards,” Tomlinson says.
“(They’re) going to come and do some math too – we do a running score,” meaning, in order to keep track of their progress they can’t use calculators, and they have to keep track of certain steps such as picking up the bow, preparing it, and finally, launching the arrow to its desired target.
“In order for a kid to get a scholarship they have to create a ranking with USA Archery – that’s my job,” he says. Not everyone wants to get a scholarship or compete in the Olympics, but they all get excited about making money, he explains.
Tomlinson often puts money up on the target itself and tells his students, “‘If you hit it, you get it.’ Now, all of a sudden, they want to remember what the techniques were so they can get that money,” he says. “That’s how I keep them inspired throughout the class.”
That 9-year-old boy who loved cowboys and Indians, who learned to shoot a bow and arrow from watching the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn, now a seasoned gentleman, stays in practice, too. “I try to practice about three days a week,” Tomlinson says, adding that even he has “to remember those steps.”
Classes are held inside Bushnell Congregational Church, 15000 Southfield Freeway, Detroit • 313-740-7129
4-6 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 2-5 p.m. Sunday
In addition to Elite Archery, you can find several places in Detroit that offer archery classes:
Adams Butzel Complex
10500 Lyndon • 313-628-0990
Heilmann Recreation Center
19601 Crusade • 313-224-9334
2631 Bagley • 313-224-0228