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Catching Fire: Youth Archery Programs on the Rise

16 Feb, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic

The Hunger Games. The Hobbit. Brave. What do they all have in common? Heroes and heroines armed with courage, brains – and a bow and arrow. And they have all managed to get kids to take notice and take aim.

During the winter months, many youth groups are adding archery to their arsenal of indoor sports. It’s happening for good reason, too: archery, say the experts is fun, relatively inexpensive, safe (even fewer injuries reported than in golf) and has achieved a high level of popularity as of late. One of the fastest-growing groups of archers, in fact, is girls (fueled by the three previously mentioned movies, all of which feature archery prominently, and women archers in particular).

USA Archery, the sport’s national governing body, has seen growth of 84 percent membership in the last year (and female membership is up 105 percent).  USA Archery mounted a staggeringly successful social media campaign, successfully reaching out through platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and has piggybacked its marketing efforts in conjunction with Hunger Games promotions, encouraging people – mostly young people – to connect with local archery clubs.

In a 2013 interview with Sport Destination Management, Teresa Johnson, Press Officer for USA Archery, said archery is so appealing because it’s a sport people can love immediately.

“We see it all the time: kids try, hit the target and they want to keep doing it,” said Johnson. “Archery is fun even if you’re not good at traditional sports.”

Many states today offer championships and scholarships at the youth level, often in conjunction with the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP). Next month, Texas will hold its 10th annual Texas-National Archery in the Schools Tournament and Scholarship Championship in Belton, Texas. The event has already registered 1,664 students in grades 4 to 12 from 63 schools across Texas. Event organizers say it’s a great way to encourage participation by kids who might ordinarily be turned off by team sports or sports that demand high levels of physical fitness. 

“It’s an opportunity for kids who are not necessarily athletes to participate in a sport that is in the Olympics,” Burnie Kessner told the Lone Star Outdoor News. Kessner is known as ‘the Pied Piper of Texas youth archery’ (although his formal title is Texas Parks and Wildlife Department archery coordinator).

The Texas event will award scholarships to the top five male and top five female high school archers, as well as new bows and other awards and prizes.

Last month, the Archery in Louisiana Schools program – a statewide program or Louisiana students – sponsored a south regional tournament at Louisiana State University of Alexandria that attracted 558 kids from 22 schools. The north regional tournament for Louisiana was held in late January. Organizers said there were simply too many kids to hold a single statewide tournament.

For those winners of regional school events from all states, there is the opportunity to move onto the national tournament, which will be held in Louisville, Kentucky. The National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) 2015 championships will be held at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville from May 7th to 9th. Last year’s championship event attracted 10,443 student archers from across the U.S.

For those interested in participating outside schools, private archery clubs are also on the rise. They offer indoor ranges and plenty of space for spectators (usually parents). They can provide space for practice, league competitions, summer camps, archery clubs and more. Growth has been so brisk that some private archery clubs have reported expanded programs, full classes, waiting lists and back-ordered equipment.

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