The most telling symbol of Atlantic Cape Community College's national dominance in archery is a toy cow.
Tired of seeing rival teams showing up for competitions with live mascots, the Buccaneers kept their pirate back in their Mays Landing campus and instead opted to tote a Fisher-Price cow along with their bows and arrows.
"When you squeezed it, it would moo," current Atlantic Cape head coach Mick Ebert said with a laugh. "Every time we won, we would squeeze it. It would drive the other teams crazy."
One day, it disappeared. The University of Miami of Ohio kidnapped it and even sent a Polaroid showing the cow wearing a blindfold before returning it a few days later. It now sits in Atlantic Cape's trophy case, alongside the slew of awards the Buccaneers have amassed during a 40-year reign as one of the country's top collegiate archery programs.
Although they no longer bring it to competitions, Atlantic Cape is still enjoying tremendous success. During the 2013 spring season, the Buccaneers earned third place in men's recurve, fifth in women's recurve and sixth in men's compound at the United States Intercollegiate Archery Championship at Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah.
Atlantic Cape, which won the national title in 2012, was the only two-year school among the 40 colleges participating in the event. Texas A&M earned first place, followed by James Madison University (Va.) and the Buccaneers. Some of the other top teams included Columbia University (N.Y.) and Penn State.
This year's squad was led by freshman Sungwoo Shin, a 24-year-old native of South Korea who placed third individually in the men's recurve competition. He will be back at Atlantic Cape in the fall after visiting family in South Korea this summer.
"He was in the Junior Olympic archery program in Korea when he was younger, but he gave it up for about five years," Ebert said. "When he decided to pick it up again, he discovered that his former coach in Korea (Kisik Lee) is now the United States Olympic coach and (Lee) recommended us to Sungwoo."
Unlike Shin, the majority of Atlantic Cape's archers never picked up a bow before they decided to sign up for archery.
About 30 people usually try out each year. But only a few have the dedication, patience, steely nerves and hand-eye coordination to stick with it.
"I treat and teach archery very much like a martial art," said Ebert, a 61-year-old Egg Harbor Township resident who took over for program founder Helen Bolnick in 2008. "There is definitely a Zen aspect to it, of being one with your surroundings. I try and teach it as an extension of themselves. Sometimes I even have them shoot with their eyes closed and they do very well."
Alex Carvajal and Catharine Tarquinio were among those who were new to the sport, but were each named Best Novice Archer at the 2012 national meet.
This year, Carvajal, 20-year-old Pleasantville native, teamed with Shin (Galloway Township) and Andrew Dvorsky (Galloway Township) to take the bronze medal in men's recurve. Tarquinio, a 20-year-old from the Richland section of Buena Vista Township, was part of the women's recurve team with Niki Meikle (Mays Landing) and DanaJo Domenico (Hammonton).
"I used to play football at Pleasantville (High School), but I missed my senior season after tearing the labrum in both of my shoulders," Carvajal said. "I needed a non-contact sport to play and I looked on Atlantic Cape's athletics (web) page and decided to try archery.
"I had never shot a bow before, and it was hard. No one is allowed to shoot an arrow for the first week and when I finally got to try, my arrow hit the concrete wall and broke. But after a while the sport grew on me. I'm planning on going to Richard Stockton College in the fall and I'm hoping to start an archery club there."
Tarquinio also turned to archery to feed her competitive instincts.
She was home-schooled during high school, but was a swimmer for a club team.
"Archery is a very individualistic sport like swimming and I really like that," Tarquinio said. "The first time I tried it, I enjoyed it and I found out I wasn't that horrible at it. I'm planning on shooting again next year."
Although Atlantic Cape is a community college, however, archers are allowed to compete for the school as long as they are enrolled. As a result, some members wind up competing for four years.
Ebert was a four-year member of the archery team, though his stints were a decade apart. He shot for Bolnick in 1978-79 and 79-80, then returned to compete in 1998-99 and 99-2000.
"My first time I was playing semipro volleyball and going to Atlantic Cape when I took her archery class as a one-credit elective," Ebert said. "She kept bugging me to come out for the team and I finally did. Years later, I went through some personal stuff but finally got my life settled and went back to school and decided to shoot again 10 years later. Both times, we won nationals."
It was during Ebert's second stint with the Buccaneers that they started bringing a cow to the meets.
"If you go by the trophy case, you'll see it there," he said. "Teams used to hate it when we showed up with that cow."