MAYS LANDING - A toy cow about the size of a rabbit sits in the trophy case at Atlantic Cape Community College's athletic building.
The cow was a last-minute choice as the Buccaneers' mascot at the 1980 U.S. Intercollegiate Archery Championships, since all the other schools at the event were four-year colleges and had mascots. During the tournament, the cow was stolen as a prank by the other schools. It was returned when Atlantic Cape accepted its national championship trophy.
Buccaneers coach Mick Ebert has kept the cow around to serve as a reminder that the Atlantic Cape archery team competes with the best in the nation even though it is only a two-year school.
"It was a typical prank," Ebert said Sunday. "It was so cool."
There was more obvious evidence of the Buccaneers' place among the elite this past weekend, though, as they hosted part of the U.S. Collegiate Archery (USCA) National Indoor Championship.
Nearly 70 archers from eight colleges competed at Atlantic Cape, one of four sites around the country where the event was held Saturday and Sunday. USCA sanctions the event because the NCAA does not have archery.
"It was an excellent affair," said Ebert, a 61-year-old Egg Harbor Township resident who was once an All-American archer for Atlantic Cape. "It really turned out better than I expected."
Atlantic Cape has hosted the outdoor championship previously, as well as various other tournaments. But this was the first time for the indoor event.
"When they told me we were going to do it in here, I was like, 'There's absolutely no way,' " said Buccaneers archer Niki Meikle, a 19-year-old from the Smithville section of Galloway Township. "Because our gym is (small). Last year we had it at (James Madison University), and their gym is huge. When we were able to do it, I was actually really shocked how nicely it turned out."
The Atlantic Cape archers helped set up the gym for the event. They put the equipment in place and marked the lines with tape, among other tasks.
"Everybody pulled together to make this tournament happen," Ebert said.
It was an opportunity for family and friends to attend, as well as for the archers to experience an elite tournament in their own gym.
"It's really awesome because you're on your home turf and you're a little bit more comfortable with the surroundings," said Catharine Tarquinio, a 19-year-old from the Richland section of Buena Vista Township.
The Atlantic Cape archers relished the opportunity to show off their school to opponents from Princeton, Columbia, James Madison and other big-name colleges.
It was even more special considering that many of the Buccaneers did not even practice archery until they arrived at Atlantic Cape and were recruited by either Ebert or former longtime coach Helen Bolnick, who retired in 2008 but still teaches an archery class at the school. Even Ebert was not an archer until he took Bolnick's class in 1977.
Meikle played softball at Absegami High School but said she never imagined being an elite college athlete, let alone having her school host a national championship.
"I take a lot of pride in being a two-year school," she said. "I tell everyone."
The indoor championships will be back next year. The Buccaneers also have championship banners in the gym to remind them of the success they have had.
And the toy cow still will be there, perhaps the most impressive item in a display full of trophies from various sports.
"They are top athletes," Ebert said. "It's Division I. We are the only sport in this college that deals with four-year schools. We are the only sport that actually gives them a four-year experience."
Notes: Atlantic Cape's Sung Woo Shin successfully defended his title in the men's recurve. Tarquinio finished second in the women's recurve. There is no team scoring in the indoor event.
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