Hundreds of keen-eyed young athletes will soon converge on East Junior High School in Wisconsin Rapids for the 2013 National Archery in the Schools state tournament. The two-day event, April 5-6, is open to spectators and admission is free.

The popularity of this sport has grown remarkably in the past few years. Three years ago the tournament attracted 635 archers from 18 schools across Wisconsin. This year, East Junior High School will host 1,180 students from 47 schools, boys and girls in grades 4 through 12.

“This is a program that doesn’t discriminate based on a student’s popularity, traditional athletic skills, gender or size,” said Dan Schroeder, a natural resources educator with the state Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin state coordinator for the National Archery in the Schools Program, or NASP.

“I get a thrill every time these young archers toe up to the line and start unleashing arrows on the targets,” Schroeder said. “Target archery is teaching them self-discipline and patience. They learn to focus. These skills are translating into higher performance in school, which is why teachers and coaches are some of our biggest supporters.”

Students compete by grade level and every student uses identical equipment. Students shoot bows with their fingers – no trigger releases are allowed – and without any kind of sighting device or marks. About 42 percent of the young archers are girls. Winning archers from this competition are eligible to compete at regional and national competitions.

The NASP program is usually offered through school physical education departments and coach training is available. There are plenty of opportunities for parent involvement as coaches, organizers, fundraisers and chaperones.

Schroeder was recently named “member of the year” by the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association. He has trained more than 600 people as basic archery instructors, most of them physical education teachers. He’s added 60 basic archery instructor trainers – many of them DNR employees, including a good number of wardens – who then train more instructors.

There are now more than 1,300 basic archery instructors in Wisconsin working with youngsters who are finding in archery a new and accessible path to personal achievement.

Schroeder said that while the program teaches target archery, without a hunting component, it nevertheless can spark an interest in the outdoors. He notes that an ever growing number of city and village recreation departments are offering NASP programs.

Bill Vander Zouwen, a DNR wildlife section chief, said the agency’s decision to support archery in the schools has proved to be a winner.

“These programs build self-esteem, introduce youth to life-long recreational opportunities, result in new hunters and contribute to Wildlife Restoration Act excise tax funds that benefit wildlife conservation,” he said.

Image courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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