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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Lightweight equipment can be adjusted to fit the arm strength of all students. © Jon Gauthier
Lightweight equipment can be adjusted to fit the arm strength of all students.

© Jon Gauthier

April 2008

Reading, writing and archery

National Archery in the Schools Program helps kids stay on target for life.

Natasha Kassulke


A different kind of draw
Leveling the playing field
Tools of the trade
Changing lives one arrow at a time
2008 NASP Tournament

Move over video games like Nintendo Wii and Xbox. An ancient sport may hold the key to getting young people interested in getting active.

The National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) is gaining popularity around the world and aims to better engage students in school, build their self confidence and instill a lifelong passion for the sport. As a physical activity, archery builds strength, improves concentration and develops fine motor skills. "Archery is a great sport that engages all students, regardless of gender or physical ability," says Roy Grimes, NASP president. "It gives young people a wonderful opportunity to develop discipline, exercise their minds and bodies, and have fun learning a lifetime sport."

This international-style target archery program was spearheaded by the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources and the Kentucky Department of Education in 2002, but the program quickly expanded nationwide. On May 3, 2004, the program was incorporated as the National Archery in the Schools Program, a nonprofit, charitable organization. While piloted in Kentucky, the program has deep roots here in Wisconsin. Its curriculum was authored here and several important equipment manufacturers also are located in the state: Mathews Inc. and Brennan Industries Inc. in Sparta; Rhinehart Targets in Janesville; Field Logic in Superior; and Archery Shooter Systems in Endeavor. Prior to the start of the NASP, most schools didn't offer an archery program for a few reasons:

  • questions regarding safety
  • lack of equipment
  • no place to practice or compete
  • teachers lacked the appropriate archery training

NASP is designed to teach archery to students in grades four through 12 and is delivered during physical education classes. Students have the opportunity to shoot at bull's-eye targets placed before an arrow-resistant net in their gymnasium. Teachers can run this course any time of the year, regardless of weather. It also can be adapted to outdoor ranges.

Students use state-of-the-art Genesis© System equipment designed to fit individual needs, regardless of their arm strength. The core content of the program, prepared by professional curriculum writers, covers safety, shooting technique, equipment maintenance, mental concentration and self-improvement.

"[According to the National Safety Council] archery is statistically safer than all ball sports combined with the exception of ping-pong," says Jon Gauthier, the program's assistant international coordinator.

NASP is now active in 45 states, Canada, Australia and South Africa. Advertising isn't necessary. The remaining five states are expected to start programs this year.

"People are coming to us and it is growing," Gauthier says. "At the end of this year, over five million students will have gone through NASP during in-school time." That doesn't count participation in after-school archery clubs, which also are gaining in popularity.

Archery is classified into two areas: target and field. Target archers shoot a specific number of arrows at set targets with established values. For example, a bull's-eye is worth ten points. Field archery includes an open-field target range where archers shoot at different targets set at different distances around a course. It simulates the type of shooting experienced while hunting. Surveys from the Archery Trade Association and the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association suggest about 9 million people shoot archery in the U.S. annually (target archery and bowhunting).

NASP's focus is strictly target archery. Hunting and conservation messages are not built into the curriculum. But if a student decides to become a hunter, that is a bonus according to Mary Kay Salwey, DNR state wildlife education specialist and the DNR staff person assigned to bring NASP to Wisconsin

Wisconsin DNR supports the program as a means to help students learn some basic skills needed for traditional outdoor activities including hunting and fishing, but also tent camping, orienteering and nature study. Declining numbers of participants in these outdoor activities threaten public and financial support for conserving the state's natural resources, Salwey says. The purchase of target archery equipment adds to the Pittman-Robertson Fund for general wildlife management and hunter education.

For those who want to apply their NASP skills to hunting, Wisconsin DNR offers a Bowhunter Education Program to train both experienced and new bowhunters. The training teaches fundamental skills and instills an ethical and responsible attitude toward people, wildlife and the environment. Anyone regardless of age is eligible to take the class and receive a safety education certificate. Cost is $10. To find a course, visit Find an Upcoming Recreational Safety Education Class.

Since Wisconsin has only been involved in NASP for a few years, we can't quantify if the program has led to increases in bowhunting or field archery instate. Kraig Kriger, Minnesota's NASP Coordinator, who was certified in Wisconsin, says Minnesota has experienced a 29 percent increase in youth archery sales since that state started NASP. DNR Conservation Warden Tim Price is one of a few Wisconsin wardens who teach teachers archery as a part of NASP.

"For me, this program gives a child an opportunity to be successful in a sport," Price says. "There are a lot of kids who can't participate in ball sports. It's priceless to see a smile on a kid's face after hitting a target."

Price also hopes that by participating in the program, students will see conservation wardens as a positive resource and that impression will follow them into the field should they decide to take up bowhunting.

"Kids today are faced with so many distractions and we are losing a lot of potential hunters and anglers to other interests," Price says. "But if we introduce kids to archery and give them the opportunity to try it, my hope is we can reverse that trend and get kids interested in the outdoors again."

A different kind of draw

Before presenting the two-week archery course to students, teachers undergo an eight-hour NASP Basic Archery Instructor Training Program. All NASP teachers undergo identical training, follow rigid safety rules, use positive language and learn the techniques for target archery, says Chuck Stephens, one of four NASP Specialists in Wisconsin. These specialists teach Basic Archery Instructor Trainer courses to avid archers who then run the courses to certify the teachers.

For those who enjoy competition, after-school clubs and tournaments are a popular way to test skills and meet other enthusiastic archers. © Kentucky Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Resources
For those who enjoy competition, after-school clubs and tournaments are a popular way to test skills and meet other enthusiastic archers.

© Kentucky Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Resources

"In order to meet and enhance student learning and adhere to accountability standards, many schools integrate archery into core content areas including math, science and history," Stephens says. "Since the National Archery in the Schools Program came to Wisconsin five years ago, we have trained about 600 archery instructors and have programs running in more than 140 schools."

Interested students who participate in a NASP phy ed class can compete in regional and national shoots. On February 18, Wisconsin hosted its third year of state shoots in Wisconsin Rapids. NASP tournaments feature co-educational teams. During the 2007 NASP National Tournament, 40 percent of the archers were girls.

Dan Schroeder, another NASP Specialist, was competing as a semi-professional archer when he noticed a decline in the number of women and young people at tournaments. His goal is to turn that trend around and he thinks NASP is one way to do that.

"When you see kids, parents and teachers all cheering for a student archer, that's the best selling point there is for NASP," Schroeder says. "It helps people who might otherwise not have considered the sport get excited about archery."

Bruce Trimble, a NASP Specialist, was field director of the Wisconsin Field Archery Association in 2006 when the state's first NASP tournament was held. His organization has been a strong advocate for NASP and instrumental in the state tournament's success.

"About 170 kids registered for the first tournament, but this year we've seen that increase to over 400," Trimble says. "It's extremely exciting to see how NASP will help grow and maintain the sport."

Leveling the playing field

NASP allows all students – regardless of athletic ability or gender – to participate in this sport together. Accommodations are routinely made for physically challenged students. People with severe disabilities and even the blind use adaptive equipment to join in.

Trimble points to paralympic archer Jeff Fabry as an inspiration to young archers with disabilities. At the age of 15, Fabry was injured in a motorcycle accident and lost his right arm above the elbow and his right leg at the knee. In 1997 he started practicing and has become a gold medal archer. To release an arrow, he uses his left hand and pulls the bowstring back with his teeth.

Trimble's favorite NASP story is that of Katey Siekert, a seventh grader at East Junior High in Wisconsin Rapids who, in addition to singing, has added archery to her list of talents.

Katey Siekert, Wisconsin Rapids, stays on target holding the bow in her left hand and releasing the bowstring with her teeth. © Sandy Nugent
Katey Siekert, Wisconsin Rapids, stays on target holding the bow in her left hand and releasing the bowstring with her teeth.

© Sandy Nugent

Katey, 13, suffered a stroke when she was five years old and as a result has limited vision and limited use of her right arm. But like Fabry, she releases the bowstring with her teeth. Katey uses a special mouth tab mounted on the string. With the help of her phy ed teacher and coaching by a custodian at the school who is an avid archer, Katey has been hitting bull's-eyes. At the time of this interview, Katey was planning to compete in the 2008 Wisconsin state NASP tournament with about 30 of her schoolmates and join an after-school archery club.

Katey's advice to other kids who might be hesitant to try archery is as straightforward as an arrow: "Just try it." She recalls her reaction the first time she hit a bull's-eye. "I smiled."

Kris Slattery is Katey's phy ed teacher and this is her third year teaching NASP to her students, but her first year teaching archery to students like Katey who have disabilities.

"I tell the kids to go for it," Slattery says. "I love that kids like Katey and an eighth-grade boy in class who shoots from a wheelchair can have the same opportunity to be as successful at a sport as any other student. And Katey has the opportunity to take archery as far as she wants to take it." At the national level of NASP competition both recognition and scholarships are on the line.

Anecdotal information also suggests that NASP helps transform previously unreachable "high-risk" students by increasing their self-esteem. "Archery helps students focus because if you don't center in on your target you aren't going to succeed. Students look forward to it so much it can [positively] influence student attendance," says Tom Bennett, the NASP director for government relations.

Tools of the trade

Archery is a lifetime sport that can be an individual or team experience. Some compare it to golfing, but argue that archery is more accessible since the equipment is less expensive and you don't have to pay a golf course fee or club membership to play. The NASP uses a Genesis© bow because it fits everyone and the schools don't need various sizes. A typical classroom set of NASP equipment includes:

  • 12 Genesis© youth compound bows (one is left-handed)
  • 5 bull's-eye 80 cm targets
  • 5 dozen aluminum shaft arrows
  • 1 30' arrow-resistant safety net and bowrack(s)
  • 1 toolkit

The Genesis© System combines "zero let-off" with light draw weights (adjustable from 10 lb to 20 lb) to create a bow that covers all standard draw lengths and fits everyone. A Genesis© bow set at 20 lb, for example, stores and releases an amount of energy comparable to a 35 lb recurve bow.

The average cost of a classroom set is about $2,700-$2,900 and most schools need two sets. Some schools fund the program with donations from local civic or sporting groups and grants.

"Wisconsin is fortunate in having a number of strong statewide conservation organizations that partner with Wisconsin DNR to administer this program," says Salwey. These include the Wisconsin Field Archery Association, Wisconsin Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, Whitetails Unlimited and Safari Club International and many smaller local rod, gun and archery clubs.

Some schools have expressed concerns that archery classes could mar expensive gymnasium floors but NASP equipment is designed to be floor friendly. Painter's tape used on the floor may be pulled up easily without leaving a mark. The arrows are designed with a special tip that prevents them from digging into and scratching the floor.

Jennifer Layson, a Kentucky phy ed teacher who teaches the NASP in her class, said, "I taught archery this year and we have two gyms. I use the 'good' gym we have for basketball games and so forth. An arrow would hit the floor every now and then, but left no scratches or anything that I could see."

Some schools place tarps underneath the targets and rubber mats or carpet pieces in front of the targets for additional floor protection.

Changing lives one arrow at a time

Waunakee High School phy ed teacher Larry Kopf says his interest in archery stems from childhood. As a boy he participated in a target league. So, when he became a teacher, he decided to bring that interest into the classroom and share it with his students.

Kopf has been teaching the NASP in Waunakee to juniors and seniors for two years. "The students enjoy it because they get immediate visual feedback," Kopf says. "We do goal setting and start out aiming to just hit the target. They learn the technique and develop confidence with practice."

Robin Hooverson and Heath Folkedahl are students in Jon Steffenhagen's phy ed class at Gale-Ettrick- Trempealeau High School. Both come from bowhunting families but have found a new love in target archery.

Folkedahl, a 17-year-old senior, started the NASP as a junior. While he plays football and baseball, he says he enjoys the individual competition archery affords.

Hooverson, a 16-year-old junior, started the program as a sophomore and says she enjoys target archery events more than bowhunting.

"It makes me think and it's fun – it's something different than typical sports and it combines physical work with mental work," Hooverson says. "And there is nothing like the pure adrenaline rush you get when you hit a bull's-eye...And, yes I am getting an 'A' in archery this year."

Natasha Kassulke is creative products manager for Wisconsin Natural Resources.

2008 NASP Tournament
The 2008 NASP Tournament will be held May 10 in Louisville, Kentucky with room for 1,920 student archers. For more information visit National Archery in the Schools.

To reach the National Archery in the Schools Program: 2035 Riley Road, Sparta, WI 54656. Call (608) 269-1779.

Another event to consider: The Wisconsin Outdoor Education Expo runs 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Thursday and Friday) May 15 and 16 at the Dodge County Fairgrounds located between Beaver Dan and Horicon. This year's Expo again features an Archery Camp. Visit Wisconsin Outdoor Education Expo for more information.