St. CLAIR, Mo.—Archery is a great equalizer. It’s a sport in which kids of all ages, all sizes and athletic abilities can excel. Both boys and girls can shoot shoulder to shoulder as equals. The Missouri National Archery in the Schools Program (MoNASP) sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is designed to make it easy for schools to bring the sport of archery safely and affordably into their physical education programs.
MoNASP is part of the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) that teaches Olympic style target archery to students in grades 4-12. MoNASP is initially taught as a two-week unit and qualifies the school for regional, state, national and international NASP competitions.
But MoNASP is about far more than landing arrows in targets.
“I’ve seen it help with discipline,” said Bruce Wilken. “It helps with grades. Students need at least a C average to participate. We’ve had students that were doing D and F work, and now they’re up to Cs and Bs.”
Wilken knows the program inside and out. He’s the School Resource Officer (SRO) for the St. Clair R-XIII School District. Officer Wilken is employed by the St. Clair Police Department and in addition to serving as the school district’s SRO, he teaches the D.A.R.E. program and runs MoNASP. He was responsible for bringing the archery program to the district.
“I’ve had parents come up who say my kid wants to shoot and I can’t believe the difference I’ve seen. They want to do homework; they want to do extra credit. They want to come to practice, they want to go to competitions . . . and it changes their attitude about life,” said Wilken.
Wilken echoes what the statistics of MoNASP bear out. They show school archery programs improve attendance at school, increase participants self-esteem and physical activity, helps kids relate to learning subject matter and gets them outdoors to discover nature.
According to Officer Wilken, archery is something anybody can do. Everybody has a chance to succeed both on their own and as a team. And unlike many traditional team sports, there are no bench-sitters in archery. Everyone gets to shoot.
“Once they make the team, they’re a family, and they work like a family,” he said.
“The atmosphere is so competitive, but so friendly,” said 11th grade MoNASP participant Macayla, who has been in the program since the 6th grade. “Everyone is a friend of everyone else.”
MoNASP gives students a chance to take their passions for archery beyond the gymnasium by offering the tournament competitions on a regional, state, national, and even international level.
St. Clair District students have enjoyed success in these tournaments too. In the nine years St. Clair has been with the program, they’ve been to state tournaments eight times, seven of those times they reached top 10 in the state. The students have pressed all the way to the national tournament twice and have even made it once to the world tournament.
“You’ve got to work together with all your people because you average out as a team score to carry you on to different tournaments,” said Sebastian, an eighth-grader who has been participating in the MoNASP program for three years.
MDC offers frequent training workshops for teachers that enable them to conduct the program in their own schools. Grants are also available from MDC to cover the cost of the archery and the required safety equipment.
Wilken described MoNASP as well disciplined with a strong emphasis on safety. Students are taught strict safety protocols and to respond to whistle commands when shooting and retrieving arrows.
“The only sport that’s any safer than ours is ping pong,” he said.
Overall, Wilken feels that MoNASP is a great asset to the students and the school district.
“If you work in the school in any way shape or form, to get closer to the kids, get in with this program. It will be a beneficial for you and them,” said Wilken.
Officer Wilken believes that MoNASP aids him in his job as district SRO by helping to demonstrate to kids that interactions with law enforcement can be positive and that the police are their friends. They look to Wilken almost as a grandfather figure. That goes a long way towards building the mutual trust essential to his job.
“I may not have any grandkids of my own, but by time we get our team together I have about 50 ‘grandkids’ to watch after,” he said.
To learn more about MoNASP, go to https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/teaching/monasp/about-monasp.