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Building Better Students With Bows And Arrows
A look into why more youngsters are participating in the National Archery in the Schools Program than Little League.
Story and photos by Joe Byers
With the new school year underway, parents and students are thinking about how to succeed in the coming year. Here’s a tip: Archery programs help develop students both athletically and academically. Although paper, pencils, and a computer tablet are traditional tools on a school list, a bow and arrows could be the best gear of all. “The National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) changes lives one arrow at a time” is a popular slogan and helps students avoid a sedentary lifestyle and the negative influences of a digital world. Coaches teach that arrows are like choices on social media — once sent, you can’t take them back.
The NASP serves more than 3 million students across the country and its impact provides the discipline and focus that many students need. This is not an after-school add-on program, but becomes part of the physical education program, taught by certified teachers and coaches. Students learn the basics of archery in a very structured setting, and their achievements can earn scholarships, build friendships, and develop school pride.
“The only sport safer is probably ping pong,” says Clear Spring Middle School Coach Dave Flowers. “Youngsters learn the importance of safety from the very first lesson, and the structure of the process creates excitement and maintains safety.” Dave sites the performance of participants at the NASP National Championships in which 500 students stand side by side to compete. Can you imagine that many excited teenagers functioning in total control and striving to do their best? That’s precisely what happens at competitions and in the gym daily. The NASP has a perfect safety record and constantly trains and retrains instructors to assure student safety.
Equal Opportunity Arrows
Arrows and bull’s-eyes don’t discriminate. Adolescents grow at varying rates and a sixth-grader may be 4 feet tall one year, and 6 feet tall a few years later. In football, basketball, and even baseball, size often matters. If you are the tallest, the strongest, or the fastest, you have an advantage over other students. Competition weeds out the less-tall, less-strong, and slower youngsters as they progress through athletics. Gender matters as well. Girls and boys rarely compete on an equal playing field due to physical difference.
Archery “doesn’t care” how big you are, how strong you are, or about your gender. The equipment used in the program is standard and the bows are uniquely designed to be shot by children and adults. The draw weight of the bow is an easy 20 pounds. Every participant uses the same arrows and shoots at the same targets from 10 and 15 meters.
More students participate in NASP than Little League Baseball. The amazing rapid growth and popularity of archery in schools is a direct result of its relevance to classroom perform-ance. To succeed in archery, students must focus their attention on the training received and their individual skills. Youngsters must follow direc-tion (exactly); concentrate like a basketball player at the foul line or when taking an exam; problem solve (if my arrows are striking to the left, how should I change my form?); develop a routine like a golfer driving a ball or a tradesman building a house; and work as a team like most sports and business teams.
Athletic skills easily transfer to life skills. You can’t hit the bull’s-eye every time, but the solution to better shooting is in your hands. There is no one to blame, and only by developing self-discipline and good problem-solving skills, will you improve.
“As a parent, I love the program,” says Shannon Hewett, father of Karragun, a Clear Spring Middle School participant. “I love when the program is in full-swing and seeing my daughter practicing on her own and excited about shooting. Team sports are great and she’s part of a team. It seems to boost her self-confidence and self-esteem. She can focus on one particular activity at a time.”
“I like archery and look forward to shooting after school,” says Karragun. “I love my bow and going outside to shoot it.” With respect to the many rules that govern shooting, the 12-year-old says, “It becomes natural after you do it so often. Next year I hope to go to the Nationals and have been practicing all summer.”
Washington County Participation
“This is the best thing I’ve ever done in education,” says Dave Flowers, who is also a physical education teacher at Clear Spring Middle School. “All 410 students at CSM participate and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons that Clear Spring High School students do so well in Maryland State competition. They’ve won top honors several years and the school’s shooters always rank among the best.”
Andrew Kaetzel, newly appointed as assistant principal at Springfield Middle School, coached a team at Lincolnshire Elementary last year that was so successful, two students qualified for the National Championships in Louisville, Ky. Andrew is working toward bringing the program to Springfield Middle School. Currently, NASP programs operate at Smithsburg Middle, E. Russell Hicks Middle, Clear Spring Middle and High School, and Lincolnshire Elementary.
“The program is geared to all athletic abilities,” Andrew says. “The thing that I really like is you don’t have to be a superior athlete. It builds confidence, focus, and it’s the safest unit that you teach because there is so much involved in training and how the program operates. All shooting procedures are based on whistle commands…you hammer that home before you even think about picking up a bow. All kids love it, special needs, boys and girls,” Andrew continues. “At the elementary level, most students have never shot bows before and it’s especially exciting.”
Lifetime skills are a focus of physical education in Washington County schools, according to Kaetzel. “Basketball and flag football are taking a back seat,” he says. “We want lifetime fitness and there’s no better sport than archery to carry on for a lifetime.”
Author’s Note: For an overview of the program and why it can make a difference in children, visit www.youtu.be/Xm1CJGEGF44