Wherever you are in Lawton Fort Sill, Oklahoma, chances are good that at some point, you will hear a boom and possibly feel a tremor as well. Don’t worry: these are not earthquakes. These are the military town’s beloved “sounds of freedom,” reports of munitions being tested at Fort Sill, the Army's premier artillery training center, and they are also evidence that you’ve arrived in a community that is no ordinary sports destination: it’s a place where history and tradition ignite a whole new level of competition.
It’s possible toxophilite isn’t a familiar term … yet. But just wait. Toxophilites are students of one of mankind’s oldest sports, archery, a sport that is experiencing unprecedented growth.
Why archery? Why now? Like so many other things, the answer has to do with popular culture.
“Arrows and archery have been at the forefront of a lot of culture lately,” says Jacob Russell, director of the Lawton Fort Sill Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of the hugely popular Hunger Games series is an archer, and I think that has had a lot to do with the growing interest in the sport. But there have also been other shows that feature archery, like the TV show, “Arrow,” a new adaptation of the DC Comics Green Arrow superhero. Archery is simply becoming very big.”
Lawton Fort Sill has its own evidence that demonstrates archery’s upward trend. For the past three years, the city has hosted the On Target with Kiwanis, an archery event with an almost breathtaking growth curve.
“On Target with Kiwanis will be in its third year in 2016,” says Russell. “In its first year, the event drew 250 competitors, and the second doubled to 500. This year the Kiwanis Club expects an estimated 700 athletes.”
This surge in popularity has a number of factors influencing it. Lawton Fort Sill’s event in particular is a favorite among athletes, thanks to excellent organization and a prime facility.
National Archery in the Schools
The On Target with Kiwanis is produced through a combined effort of the Lawton Fort Sill Kiwanis Club and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP).
NASP began with a partnership in Kentucky that aimed to unite educators’ goals of improving student motivation, attention, behavior, attendance, and focus with wildlife conservation agency goals of enhancing youth mastery of outdoor skills, allowing them to reengage with wilderness spaces. NASP launched in 2002 in 21 Kentucky middle schools, but within just the first year, both in-state and neighboring state interest were so strong that the program expanded its standards to include fourth through 12th grades and changed its original name—Kentucky Archery in the Schools Program—to National Archery in the Schools Program.
Today, the 501 c(3) organization has coordinators in each of its 35 participating states, and Oklahoma has certified almost 500 schools in its OKNASP program, with overwhelming education approval and student enthusiasm.
“While teaching the OKNASP course curriculum I noticed that student attendance was near 100 percent and the students’ self-discipline was greatly improved,” says Colby Cagle, Teacher, Bethel Public Schools.
All this demonstrates young people’s clear enthusiasm for the sport, but it also explains, in part, the astounding response received by Lawton Fort Sill’s archery event, which draws competitors from all across North America. The other reason behind the event lies in the age-old adage: location, location, location.
Comanche County Great Plains Coliseum
The Great Plains Coliseum at Comanche County Fairgrounds provides the ideal venue for archery events – and all kinds of events.
“Archers like indoor tournaments, as they remove variables that can’t be controlled like weather,” says Russell. “In addition, a lot like baseball, you need a space that removes as much visual distraction as possible.”
The Great Plains Coliseum achieves this distraction minimization by providing 2,500 fixed seats, all elevated approximately five feet above the competition floor. Not only does this elevation create a zone of minimal distraction for archers, but also it ensures that every spectator (and every parent) gets a clear view of the action, no matter where they happen to be.
Size also matters, particularly with archery events growing exponentially every year. A multi-purpose facility, the Coliseum features an arena floor of 12,000 square feet and additional display space under the grandstands. In terms of archery, this means that 32 targets can fit side-by-side on the floor space, allowing 64 archers to shoot at once.
The facility’s experienced staff is always available to assist with everything from set-up to tear-down. Two break rooms offer space for meetings and the venue also offers a show office, restroom and shower facilities. Depending on the type of event, the floor area can accommodate up to 1,400 patrons in portable chairs with banquet seating for up to 1,100.
The Complex is also home to the Expo Building, an exhibit building located north of the Coliseum. The Expo Building offers more than 80,000 square feet of exhibit space, making it ideal for shows complimentary to any sports event, as well as a variety of independent events, such as livestock shows and sales, auctions and car and truck shows. The Expo Building also has stall space for 1,200 head of cattle, 800 head of lamb and hog, 250 horse stalls and over 250 feet of wash racks inside the building with eight acres of tie-out space available.
Even the greatest of facilities cannot deliver such an exceptional experience, however, without a stable of experienced volunteers.
“We’re lucky to have a supportive and experienced community,” says Russell. “We have plenty of experienced judges, scorekeepers and timekeepers, which is crucial for a successful, large archery meet.”
The Classic American Family Vacation
One part of successful sports events is the actual planning and execution of the event, but a whole other element lies in the destination itself. For those eager for a throwback, true American family-style experience, Lawton Fort Sill is the place to be.
A 100,000-person town with more than 1,000 hotel rooms, Lawton Fort Sill is big enough to have everything you might need but small enough to mean that all of those things you need are never more than 10 to 15 minutes away. Even more unique, however, is the fascinating door of history that Lawton invites guests to walk through.
Fort Sill is the only remaining 19th Century frontier army post that is still an operating Army military base. Legendary as the final home and resting place of Geronimo, Fort Sill was also home, for a time, to the legendary Buffalo Soldiers. Fort Sill is also home to the U.S. Field Artillery Center and School and one of the area’s most thrilling attractions: the U.S. Army Field Artillery & Air Defense Museum that showcases over 70 guns and artillery pieces and numerous other artifacts from head gear and ammo to small arms and uniforms.
After experiencing history, visitors can spend some time enjoying a piece of the landscape that all those soldiers are protecting at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. This 59,000-acre grasslands habitat is home to bison, elk, deer and longhorn plus more than 50 mammals, 240 birds, 64 reptiles and amphibians, 36 fish species and 806 plant species. Hike (or drive) to the Mt. Scott summit, rising 2,500 feet above the plains, to take in the entire view of Lawton Fort Sill and beyond.
Nearby, Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area (LETRA) features a no-wake lake, year round camping, cabins, a boat ramp, picnic areas and beaches.
Another of Lawton Fort Sill’s natural gems, Lake Lawtonka, offers 21 miles of shoreline and presents opportunities for wakeboarding, jet skiing and some renowned smallmouth bass fishing.
Historical Sports Excellence
Lawton Fort Sill is a historical American destination that proudly continues to provide training to America’s soldiers, history to its many visitors and exceptional sports opportunities to athletes of all kinds, from archers to cowboys to softball teams. Find out more about how to make your next event a part of history at www.visitlawtonok.com.