When the Baby Boomers were kids they developed love affairs with television westerns and the iconic guns carried by their heroes, from Steve McQueen’s Mare’s leg to Nick Adams’ sawed-off shotgun to Chuck Connor’s rapid-fire rifle. The Boomers channeled that innocent fascination with marksmanship into lifelong pursuits (like recreational shooting and hunting) and careers (police and military).
Fast forward 50 years and their grandchildren have developed their own appreciation for the shooting sports thanks to pop culture. The blockbuster movie “The Hunger Games,” the Disney animated film “Brave”, and bow-wielding superheroes in Hawkeye (“the Avengers”) and TV’s Green Arrow are just a few of the mass media’s recent highlights of archery. That imagery, which, unlike the westerns of old, also features heroines, has suddenly made archery incredibly popular with today’s youth, boys and girls alike.
We should capitalize on that interest and make archery accessible to children because it would offer some important life lessons. It’s a sport that teaches incredible self-discipline; one can be successful only through concentration and control and practice and preparation. It’s a sport that teaches self-reliance; unlike some of the team sports, where the weakness of an individual can be masked, the spotlight is on the person and it’s up to him or her to persevere alone. It’s a sport that develops respect – not fear - for weaponry; as much the bow is a sporting instrument, it’s also a weapon and, by starting young, we can nourish a true appreciation for safety of self and others. It’s a sport that can get kids outdoors; modern marksmanship has sadly been limited to video games indoors and that electronic fascination has contributed to high childhood obesity rates. And, last but not least, it’s a sport that can develop an interest in bowhunting; there is no more perfect way to recruit youth to hunting, a sport that creates an appreciation for the environment and helps put meat on the table.
One cannot deny the attractiveness and virtues of the sport. Accessibility, though, can be perceived to be a problem, what with most people living in urban and suburban settings with smaller - or no - backyards, thus inhibiting bowmanship.
The question then becomes, “how do we introduce kids to archery?”
The answer: Our schools.
Ten years ago a cooperative between state conservation departments, school districts, and private rod and gun clubs was formed. Known as the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP), it brings together those groups in an effort to introduce archery to school physical education curricula. The states help connect school districts to local archers whose organizations then provide the equipment to the districts and teach the teachers about the art of handling the bow and arrow, so, ultimately, there is no cost to the taxpayers. New York entered the program 3 years ago and since then 92 school districts from across the state have entered NASP, exposing some 15,000 students to archery.
The program has been so successful in the Empire State that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) hosts an annual virtual competition, whereby the schools target shoot in their own districts and the scores are then collated by the state’s NASP directors. In the most recent event, 309 students from 15 schools participated. Showing that archery is a universal sport in which both sexes can excel, the two top scorers, Jay Vinson and Alexa Denhoff, took home trophies, targets, arrows, and a brand new bow. Quite the prizes!
With the new school year upon us, the DEC has announced that they are looking for more schools to join NASP. If you think archery would be a good fit for your school (and, why wouldn’t it be?), contact Melissa Bailey, the state coordinator for NASP, at 315.793.2515 and she will help get the ball rolling.
It’s time that we made good on the popularity of the sport. In these Hunger Games, though, the only hunger that the kids have is for a sport that’s cool, fun, and rewarding. Archery certainly fits the bill. Let’s satisfy that hunger.
Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at email@example.com.
This column originally ran in the 03 September 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers