In 2017, Dallas Jones became the first African-American to win a national archery tournament. Then he won gold at the 2019 Lancaster Archery Classic.
Jones, 16, is from Brooklyn, New York, and began shooting archery at age 10. But his story actually began much earlier when a man quit his job to pursue a more fulfilling career.
That man is Larry Brown, now a New York archery coach.
Brown got his own start in archery at age 5. His father, who worked as a bowyer while also running an upholstery business, took Brown and two of his other sons to a garbage dump. He tacked an old couch cushion to a dirt pile, and put a bow carved from a neighborhood tree into Brown’s hands.
That moment changed Brown’s life. From then on, he shot a bow whenever and wherever he could. According to his coaching bio, Brown spent much of his childhood looking for tree limbs to turn into handmade bows so he could practice shooting. Not until age 11—six years after he began shooting—did he buy a bow from a secondhand store. He bought what he describes as “his first real bow” in his 20s.
Brown began competing in the late 1970s. He won a spot on New York’s Empire State Games team in 1985, and became one of the few African-Americans to compete on the national archery circuit. He became head coach of the women’s archery team at Columbia in 2002. That team finished second in the U.S in 2003.
For many, that would be enough. But Brown wanted more. And not just for himself.
“When I went to tournaments and I didn’t see any black and brown children, I said: ‘You know what? I’m in my 50s now. Let me make a little change here,’” he recalled in a CBS News interview.
Brown left his Ivy League position to coach archery in the New York public school system. He has worked the past 16 years with children at 12 schools, introducing them to archery and, in the process, teaching them confidence, discipline and patience. He hopes to increase diversity in archery.
“It wasn’t about a job,” he told CBS. “It was about a mission. And that’s what made it much more comfortable for me to do.”
The impact of Brown’s coaching reaches beyond archery ranges. When asked by CBS2 how the archery program affected students, P.S. 69 Principal Sheila Durant said: “It develops self-confidence in them, their self-esteem, discipline and focus. And that translates into better test scores.”
Dallas Jones might be the winningest archer Brown has coached, but Brown balks at calling Jones the most successful. When CBS asked how he felt about his protégé’s accomplishments, Brown hesitated.
“Joy and happiness, to answer your question straight up,” he said finally. “But the success I see with him, I also see in children who don’t get as far as he did, but they came through the program and learned from it.”
One of Brown’s former students, for example, recently earned her master’s degree. Her feat demonstrated that an archery program’s success can’t always be measured by tournaments.
“The greatest reward is them,” Brown said, gesturing at his students. “Outside of a medal, outside of getting paid, outside of the external attributes, the true growth is a living person doing what you taught them to do. And it changes their lives.”