Archery making inroads
If Tracy Jonas has his way, public schools across Kansas will offer students the opportunity to learn a new sport. They'll learn to shoot with a bow and arrow.
The Edwardsville resident was hired a month ago as the archery coordinator for schools by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Last weekend, in conjunction with the National Archery in Schools Program, the department trained 15 instructors to train eight school teachers from as far away as Pratt how to teach students archery.
"For kids who can't run the fastest, it's an opportunity to do something athletic," Jonas said. "It's more like learning martial arts."
Jonas said his eventual goal was to have school archery teams form to compete in state and national competitions.
The NASP program began as a joint venture between the Kentucky state departments of wildlife and education, and is funded through the Archery Trade Association, the National Wild Turkey Federation, and Matthew Archery.
Roy Grimes, the administrative coordinator of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife and the resources president of the NASP foundation, said NASP gave $22,000 in gear to every state participating in the program. Kansas is the 38th state to join the program.
Grimes said he hoped to have 5,000 schools eventually signed into the program. By the end of this year, he said, there will be about 3,000.
Grimes said the benefits of learning archery are myriad: children feel good about themselves, they "don't have to be tall or pretty" to be good at the sport, and it can give them a better appreciation of the importance of conservation if they take up bow hunting.
Grimes said NASP was started in 2002 in part because of a perceived decline in outdoor skills.
Grimes said a survey of students who had taken NASP-designed courses had 53 percent reporting they felt better about themselves after finishing the program, and that 66 percent said the archery unit made their PE classes better.
The trainers for teachers, or basic archery instructor trainers, spent Saturday and Sunday in classes at Bonner Springs High School gym, and on Monday the BAITs trained the Basic Archery Instructors.
Jeff Prothe, a wholesale building materials seller from Kansas City, Kan., believes so much in the value of archery he attended the BAIT classes -- to train those who train school instructors -- Saturday and Sunday as a volunteer, and took turns with the other BAITs Monday teaching school instructors.
"I've been a lifetime archer. I feel strongly about shooting sports," he said.
Prothe said what he wanted teachers to carry away from Monday's class was that archery is safe and enjoyable.
Teachers learn from the BAITs the 11 steps they must teach students in class:
Stance, nock (positioning the arrow's notch in the string, setting the string hand, setting the bow hand, pre-draw, drawing, anchoring the feet, aiming, setting up the shot, releasing, and the follow-through and reflection.
Hillsdale Park employee and BAIT instructor Tim Schaid said the last step entailed the student's thinking about not how well or badly the shot went, but how "they felt they did or didn't do" correctly, and what he or she wants to do differently on the next shot.
Safety is a big part of the training, and the layout of the range is a major part of the safety instruction. Included in the teachers' training are lessons on safety orientation, how to run the shooting range and how to deal with a disruptive student.
In addition to the 13 Kansans who came to the weekend training sessions to learn to instruct PE teachers on teaching archery, two men from way down under came.
Neil Curtis, leading senior constable with the Melbourne police, said he learned of the NASP program through a link on a Web site. Curtis said archery would benefit Australian children by giving them something they can engage themselves and which provides the same benefits as other, more intensely athletic sports do.
"We're hoping to go statewide (in Victoria), then countrywide," Curtis said.
Eventually, he said, he hopes to bring teams to the United States to compete.
Dean Clark, the other Australian in attendance, came as a volunteer. The manager of a manufacturing company, Clark said he wanted to see more children learn how to bow hunt.
Midway through Monday's classes, Curtis presented Grimes with an Australian flag to place beside the American banner on the backdrop behind the targets.
"As a token of our appreciation and of our developing relationship," Curtis said, and "for all the help and assistance NASP has given us."
Curtis later said NASP had donated $30,000 worth of archery gear to the program in Melbourne.
Although it was largely a review for her, Bonner Springs High School physical education teacher Kerri Jennings was one of the eight teachers attending the instructional course.
"I'm almost a beginner," she said, "but I think I got it."
Jennings said she'd always wanted to teach a dedicated archery unit in her PE classes, but they were too big for the archery gear the school had. Through the NASP program, the high school will receive 11 compound bows, 60 arrows, five targets, a backdrop to hang behind the targets, two bow stands and a repair kit. As with the other schools' deals, NASP paid for half the equipment's $4,800 cost and the school paid for the other half.
The equipment is the same from school to school, Grimes said, making it easier for students to start teams and relieves teachers from becoming equipment experts.
The program, including the gear used in it, is designed to accommodate students in fourth through 12th grades. Physical education teacher David Cobb, who took Monday's class, said he thought archery could be a "part of lifetime fitness skills" for students, "something kids can do who can't play football and basketball."
Jonas said the next class for teachers would be organized as soon as he had at least four interested instructors signed up.
To reach Jonas or for more information about the program, call him at (913) 486-1558, or e-mail him at email@example.com.