Profile: Justin Mesteth, student-athlete

posted on February 8, 2013
by Christopher Ives 

The audience, judges, and competitors watch as Justin Mesteth, a freshman at Red Cloud High School, pulls the arrow back on his camouflaged compound hunting bow. Justin sights a rubbery-looking elk statue at the back of the room, breathes, and releases. A rush of air followed by a slap: the arrow sticks out from the center of the motionless creature, pointing straight back at Justin.

A whistle blows to signify the end of another round of shooting at this year’s Lakota Nation Invitational. Students walk out onto the floor of the indoor range to collect arrows from their respective targets and from the floor. Despite the crowd, Justin remains calm, collected, and direct.

“It helps to have tunnel vision,” Justin says with a smile as he pulls the arrow from his target. “You just need to focus. My dad is always reminding me not to worry about other people’s targets or whether I’ll shoot a bull’s-eye or not; it’s all in your mind.”

Justin’s father, Gabe Mesteth, first learned how to use a bow from his older brother and is now passing the skill onto his son. “I used to use a rifle to hunt, but there is no sport in that,” says Mr. Mesteth, as he watches his son prepare for another round. “Using a bow was a challenge. You actually have to stop, track, and sight. It’s a different skill set.”

For many students archery is both a physical and mental exercise. Mr. Mesteth believes his son has learned patience through the practice of archery; Justin agrees. For now, he only stalks animals, awaiting the ceremony with his father that will usher him into adulthood, and the privilege of hunting with his bow.

Until then, Justin is practicing every day with targets, often for 2 to 3 hours, and in challenging weather, to prepare for any circumstance. And it has been paying off.

Justin has won his division at the Black Hills Powwow and Lakota Nation Invitational tournaments three years in a row. In 2010, at age 12, Justin won at South Dakota’s state championship and placed third at the national tournament. He says he is just getting started. “My goal is to win nationals this time, and then move onto the Olympics,” says Justin with a humble smile as he watches his classmates shoot.

Archery is offered as an after-school club at Red Cloud High School and is growing rapidly in popularity, as it is at LNI. “It has really developed quickly,” says Robert Brave Heart, executive vice president at Red Cloud Indian School. “Other sports have developed slowly over the years, but archery has come up almost over night.”

Justin began his archery career at Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School in his hometown of Porcupine, SD. The school, part of the Red Cloud Indian School system, has had a well-established archery program for a number of years.

“It is nice to have students who started at Our Lady of Lourdes on the Red Cloud High School team because they set a higher standard that the newer archers can work toward,” says Shannon McConnaughey, an archery coach and science teacher at Red Cloud. “Justin and the others do a good job of being positive role models and using their experience to support and lead others.”

While Justin continues to spend afternoons practicing his shot at home and at the Black Hills Archery Center in Rapid City, he keeps his priorities clear. With straight A’s and a 4.0 GPA, Justin also has his aim on academics.

“He's incredibly modest,” says Clare Huerter, Justin’s English teacher. “You would never know that he was a top student, but he works incredibly hard. He is very concerned about his grades and on top of his work.”

“I have always insisted that his academics come first over sports,” says Mr. Mesteth, echoing Red Cloud’s own policy of ‘student first, athlete second.’ His Father believes that his son is able to succeed in athletics because of his level of commitment to his academics. Justin is also a member of the Red Cloud High School football, baseball, and basketball teams, as well as a traditional-style powwow dancer and an active community member.

“He is an outstanding athlete. He is a hard worker and does whatever it takes to win – a real competitor,” says Christian McGhee, the high school’s athletic director and basketball coach. “Justin is just one of those kids that you love to have on the team because of his attitude on and off the floor.”

With basketball season in full swing as his second semester of high school begins, Justin has a full plate. But with the support of his coaches and teachers, his father at his side and a humble smile on his face, Justin is poised for great things. This spring, his sights will turn toward Yankton, SD, the home of this year’s NFAA Archery competition, and the next chapter in this Red Cloud Crusaders’ story.

“You can’t get intimidated,” Justin says. “It’s all in your mind - whether you will hit a bull’s-eye or not. If you believe in yourself, you will.”