Small-town USA welcomes archers with open arms
The residents of South Dakota didn’t need passports or international plane tickets to experience a variety of cultures at the Yankton 2021 Hyundai World Archery Championships.
Following in the footsteps of prominent global metropolises like Paris, Lausanne and Tokyo, the rural North American town of Yankton offered a charming alternative to what has traditionally been expected from cities hosting archery’s most prestigious events.
“We are servicing the world today!” Marilyn Konda exclaimed from inside her food truck parked outside the competition arena at Riverside Park, where a total of 336 athletes from 53 countries battled for world champion titles.
Working in tandem with her husband, Steve, the couple gladly accepted an invitation to shuttle their mobile canteen, Front Porch Concessions, to the town of 15,000 people – many of whom rarely get the chance to interact with international clientele on a regular basis.
“It’s really neat, because where else are we going to get to meet people or talk to people that are from all of these different countries?” said Marilyn, who said she jumped at the opportunity to participate.
“It was a no-brainer,” she explained. “We’ve been doing this for about 18 years, so for us to be able to serve people who maybe have never had our food is pretty unique.”
Home to the largest archery centre in the world, Yankton embraced its role as host with a coinciding Archery Fest, which included Wild West reenactors, a South Dakota food truck fare, a South Dakota-made vendor show and a firework display.
Archery may have been the raison d’etre for the athletes’ convergence on this inconspicuous American town, but the excitement extended far beyond the business of shooting arrows.
“It’s just amazing to see them,” said Sally Schroeder, a semi-retired nurse who has taken up photography in her spare time.
“I was talking with my husband last night, and he’s got a bow, some of my sons have bows and as I’m watching, I’m like, maybe I should take up archery.”
“I’m going to start learning how to shoot,” Shroeder pledged. “I'm a good shot with a gun, so why wouldn’t I be good with a bow? Being here has inspired me to take up archery.”
Hosting a global event in Yankton exposed the archers to an often-overlooked part of the country, Schroeder said.
In addition to selling her photos, the arrival of the world championships provided the opportunity for Yankton locals to function as cultural ambassadors to the international athletes in attendance.
“All of my pictures are from South Dakota, so if they want to take a piece of South Dakota home with them, they can,” said Schroder, who specialises in sunflowers, prairies, old barns and portraits of her three horses, Tulsa, Isaiah and Bo.
“I work with what I have, and when the sunset’s going crazy – even if I’m in my bathrobe ready to go to bed, because I go to bed early – I run down the road to take the picture. It’s just fabulous.”
Providing culinary offerings to an international audience meant a lot to the community, the Kondas added, mentioning as well that the town prides itself on its warmth and hospitality.
“The Missouri River, which is right here – this one and the Mississippi River and its tributaries – and the Yangtze River in China are the only places that have paddlefish in the world,” Steve Konda shared.
“We feel very privileged to share our food with so many interesting people.”
The signature item for Front Porch was a Taco in the Tub, the Kondas said, which is a 32-ounce deli container filled with taco fixings.
Other popular items included Spudsters, which are deep-fried mashed potatoes with toppings and fried mac and cheese. Additional carnival-type fare consisted of corn dogs, cheese curds and a dozen flavours of smoothies.
“We’re selling a lot of smoothies, because I think everybody kind of knows what smoothies are,” Marilyn said, adding that archers from Korea, Croatia, the Netherlands and India had patronised her truck.
“We weren’t sure how people would understand American-type of food, like a taco or, you know, an Indian taco. But the language barrier – I mean, they seem to get it.”
The interactions were more than just transactional, she said.
“We usually ask them, you know, ‘where are you from?’ and it’s like, whoa, never heard of that country,” Steve said, referring to an archer from the Maldives. “And then we look on the phone where it is and we get to learn about it.”
Yankton was likely a similarly unknown destination for the archers prior to the event’s arrival.
While requisite health protocols due to the ongoing pandemic, including constraints on international travel, have precluded both athletes and spectators from their usual levels of exposure, the archery events served as a substitute arena of polychromatic cultural discovery.
“I am in love with this tournament – with the places, the views,” Mexico’s Ana Vazquez said. “I am very rural, so this place is like my home. It’s great. I’m in love.”
The archer’s approval was echoed throughout the week-long event that was held in the USA for just the second time – and another in a long line of international tournaments hosted by Yankton.
“We look forward to them coming back to South Dakota,” Steve Konda said. “There’s a lot to see here if you take the time to look. It’s a beautiful, beautiful state.”
Competition returns to Yankton in 2022 for the World Archery Field Championships, the fourth worlds and fifth major international tournament to be held in small-town USA since 2015.