They say it’s hard to get kids to focus on anything these days besides TV and video games. Yet there they were, a whole string of school kids, stretched out nearly 200 feet, all standing at the shooting line and staring at the targets in front of them.
One hundred and forty eyes were boring holes in the bull’s-eyes, willing the arrows they were about to launch to follow the same path as their penetrating gaze. The young archers were motionless, waiting for the command to shoot, and it was intensely quiet. I think I heard a stomach growl from the kid at the end of the line.
The students were competing at the Missouri National Archery in the Schools Program’s first state tournament, held on March 7 at Linn State Technical College. Dave Murphy, executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, stared at the impressive line of kids and shook his head. “This is unbelievable,” he said with a huge grin on his face.
The Conservation Federation partners with the Department of Conservation to help NASP grow in Missouri. The first state tournament, where 274 kids came from 17 schools to compete, is a happy page in Missouri NASP’s scrapbook.
NASP is international-style target archery taught in grades 4-12 as a part of in-school curriculum. NASP is usually taught in physical education classes, but is sometimes a part of math, science, physics, conservation and lifetime sports classes, as well. NASP focuses on safety and beginning instruction, and it requires certified teachers and standard equipment. It also requires positive language and instruction. In their training, teachers learn to properly set up and operate an archery range so they can maintain NASP’s impeccable safety record. The National Safety Council ranks archery as safer than any ball sport taught in any school in North America except for table tennis.
NASP began in 2002 in Kentucky as a partnership between the departments of education and fish, game and wildlife. PE teachers were trained, and the program was piloted in 21 schools. NASP’s founders knew they were onto something big when, a year later, the number of NASP schools in Kentucky had grown to 120, and educators from 30 states had called asking how they could get archery started in their schools.
Today, NASP is being taught in more than 5,000 schools in 46 states and five countries. Since NASP began, 4.6 million kids have participated — more than 1 million kids will participate this year alone.
Last year, the number of NASP schools in Missouri doubled. Today, 76 Missouri schools are teaching NASP to more than 12,000 kids.
One reason for NASP’s success is that, unlike most other sports taught in schools, nearly any student can be successful with archery. “You don’t have to be athletic, fast, big or strong to be good at archery,” says NASP’s president and co-founder, Roy Grimes. Students of all sizes and abilities learn archery together, and at competitions, boys and girls are at the shooting line together.
Teachers and school administrators have discovered that archery class can be a great motivator for students. Greg Byrne, a teacher at Flynn Park Elementary School in University City, has noticed that at least 50 percent of his students are participating more in class since he started teaching NASP. Some schools require students to maintain good grades in order to participate in archery. Teachers also report that NASP reduces student behavior problems and improves class attendance.
“It’s incredible!” says Steve Lanier, a PE and NASP teacher at Longview Farm Elementary in Lee’s Summit. “Parents have told me their kid wants to come to school when they’re sick just so they can shoot archery.”
When Tracy Flood heard about NASP, she knew it would be a good fit for her outdoor education class. Tracy, a teacher at Crane Middle School, has a waiting list of kids who want to take her class. “Archery is the most popular class in middle school. Once they’re hooked, they’re hooked. Kids want to shoot, so they make sure they keep their grades up.”
Karla Snook, principal at Crane Middle School, says it is easy to see the benefits NASP has brought to her school. “NASP has allowed a new special bond between the kids that teachers and parents have noticed. It’s also improved parent involvement with the school. Just last night, members of the school board asked me how we could get NASP started in the high school.”
Twins Shelby and Karley Andrus are both in Tracy’s class. “Archery is just so different from my other classes,” says Shelby. “I just put everything else out of my head and focus on where I want the arrow to go.”
Shelby and Karley liked archery in Tracy’s class so much that they asked for their own bows for Christmas. The twins’ mom, Shelley, says the girls’ dad, Duane, and older brother, Holden, have picked up archery again since the girls learned archery in school. They set up straw bales and shoot in the yard. Now, they sometimes all shoot together
“It’s something they suddenly have in common with other family members, including their uncles and grandpa who bowhunt,” says Shelley. “A lot of conversations have started about archery shooting and picking out their first bow because now the girls can relate.”
Research reveals that 26 percent of NASP kids that have been in the program for a year or more buy (or convince someone else to buy for them) their own archery equipment. Parents are often happy to support a physical activity that provides a healthy alternative to spending too much time indoors with the TV, computer and video games. Parents are also discovering that archery is an activity they can share with their kids. Sometimes parents buy themselves a bow and learn the new skill alongside their child, or, like the twins’ dad, become inspired by their kids to get re-acquainted with archery.
Once kids get their own bow, the opportunities to practice and improve are endless. The twins practiced every night until dark the week before the state tournament.
In addition to teaching NASP during regular school hours, more than a third of NASP schools have started after-school archery programs. While in-school NASP uses only a single type of bow, arrow and target in order to put the focus on the kids themselves instead of the equipment, after-school archery programs can introduce kids to a variety of equipment and shooting styles. Kids in after-school programs can shoot recurve bows, compound bows or longbows, and can use different types of targets, such as 3-D animal targets. In addition to having more chances to practice and enjoy the social benefits of shooting with other classmates, kids in after-school archery programs also benefit from the support and coaching of other teachers, parents and volunteers from the community.
Communities are seeing NASP as a great investment in their future. Local sporting clubs, conservation groups and civic organizations often donate archery equipment to schools, volunteer to help support after-school archery clubs and organize local competitions and 3-D shoots. In Missouri, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Whitetails Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Quality Deer Management Association, and the Friends of NRA are just a few of the groups which have donated equipment or funds to NASP schools. Retailers are beginning to carry official NASP equipment, and Bass Pro Shops started a NASP grant program for Missouri schools. Archery shop owners often give NASP kids discounts for shooting at their range. More and more cities are building community archery parks and ranges, which provide additional shooting opportunities for NASP kids and their friends and families.
Addressing the hundreds of students, teachers and parents at Missouri NASP’s first state tournament, Conservation Commissioner Don Johnson, who was instrumental in bringing NASP to Missouri, opened the awards ceremony with these words: “You are all a dream of mine ....” Moments later, screams of excitement and tears of joy flowed when kids were awarded medals, trophies and scholarships. The top boy and girl shooter each won a new chrome-finish bow. The Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation provided a grant for $5,000 to help winning teams pay for their trip to Kentucky to compete at the NASP national tournament in May. As the winning archers filed up to the awards platform, Commissioner Johnson personally handed each medal and trophy to the students.
While competition can motivate some kids to a higher level of achievement, it is not the goal of the program or even its best measure of success. NASP is successful when it helps kids stay in school and get better grades, when kids share archery at home with their friends and family, and when they benefit from one-on-one coaching and attention from a caring adult.
Archery teaches you to slow down, concentrate and fine-tune the coordination between mind and body. These are key elements in NASP and in life.
“Success breeds success,” says Commissioner Johnson. “Once kids succeed in archery, they find they can succeed in other parts of their lives.”
For more information, including a video clip of the first Missouri NASP state tournament, visit the links listed below.
Jordan Lewis and her coach, John Ponzar. Jordan won second place in the Elementary Girls Fifth Grade Division and third place in the overall Elementary Girls Division (score of 279). Her team won 22nd in the Elementary Division. Jordan attends George Guffey Elementary in Fenton.
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