Joe Lopez (left) is still the big dog around the house when it comes to archery but his son, Matthew, has begun making waves after winning the state 4-H archery championship in May.
Russell Huffman | El Defensor Chieftain

When Socorro County’s Matthew Lopez finished second at last year’s New Mexico 4-H archery championships, he took it as a challenge to get better, and he did just that, winning the 2023 title in May.

“I practice a couple of times a week, but when it gets closer to the state championship, I practice every day,” Lopez said.

At just 15 years of age, Lopez will have several opportunities to defend his title, and he’s got some of the best coaching around in his father, Joe Lopez, who heads the Socorro County 4-H archery program.

Joe Lopez isn’t your average archery coach and, once upon a time, was one of the elite archers in the country, ranking as high as ninth in the nation. He’s turned an archery program with four athletes into one that now fields 30.

It’s easy to see how Matthew got his start, and the teenager doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t around the sport or didn’t own a bow. The student has surpassed the teacher occasionally, but Joe is still the master.

“Dad used to buy me these little bows from Walmart and let me mess around with him when he was practicing,” Matthew said. “That’s how I picked up on the sport.”

The two practice together often, and now and then, there’s a little trash-talking between them. Last year, Matthew bested his father, but when the tale is recounted between them, it becomes clear Joe still holds a little psychological edge.

“I was never coached. When I started, what I would do was sit there, and I’d study the best shooters, and I’d go home, and I’d mimic them. That’s how I learned, and then I just shot for six hours a day a couple of hundred arrows a day,” Joe said.

Matthew has benefited from his father’s knowledge. Still, there is nothing like the experience of shooting at a state championship where athletes of equal abilities surround you, and you are on a large stage.

“Last year at the state championships, I didn’t really know what was going on, so I ended up getting second, but I also knew I had a chance to be the best this year,” Matthew said.

Lopez realizes how much a positive mental attitude plays into good shooting, and he focused on having fun as he built up his routine and practices heading into this year’s event. Being only 15 years old wouldn’t stop him from achieving his goal.

His success last season has also led to questions from fellow archers about how they can get better, and Matthew has once again been following in his father’s footsteps.

“There have been a lot of people who have asked me what they could do and if I could teach them what I knew. For people wanting to get started in archery, I tell them to get a bow and a target and start shooting,” Matthew said.

While he still has lots of time to decide on a college and a career (nursing is an interest), Lopez is confident about where he wants to go regarding his archery career. While he has qualified for nationals, Lopez will step onto that stage once he’s a little older.

“I want to be the best,” he said. “I’m going to wait until I am older because I will have a better chance of winning it.”

That national setting is filled with experienced 18- and 19-year-old archers, and while Lopez is long on talent, he still must gain the valuable experience that will carry him to the next step.

Socorro County youngsters and their parents interested in learning more about archery can contact Joe Lopez at 505-363-9055 for more information concerning the local 4-H program.