Archery in the schools program 'just keeps growing'

line of students with bows and arrows in front of targets, ready to shoot for archery tournament

March 19, 2015

Last spring, when the Department of Natural Resources held its first statewide archery tournament for youngsters in the National Archery in the Schools Program, just over 400 youths signed up to come to Central Michigan University to shoot.

This year, more than 600 youngsters registered.

“It just keeps growing in Michigan,” said Kathy Garland, the DNR’s National Archery in the Schools Program coordinator. “We get more schools and more kids every year.

NASP state tournament participants of various ages and genders lined up with their bows and arrows.“There are 596 schools statewide participating in the program,” she continued. “Twenty-seven of them are at the tournament. We’d love to have more schools in this tournament, but we’re happy just to have them in the program.”

The program, which is run largely by physical education staffs at many schools – though some science and math departments sponsor teams – is designed for students in fourth through 12th grades. It’s about archery as a recreational activity, a sport and a learning experience. According to the teams’ coaches, it’s succeeding on all those levels.

Tom Barnes, the gym teacher at Davison Elementary-Middle School on Detroit’s East Side – brought his middle school team to Mount Pleasant, made up largely of youngsters who stood out in gym class.

“We shoot 3,000 arrows a week in gym class and that doesn’t include the archery team,” Barnes said. “Archery is a mental sport. There’s a physical component to it, of course, but the best archers are those who are focused and concentrating.”

The tournament, Barnes said, was just a great life experience for his students.

Archery coach Gary Williams, Detroit Davison Elementary-Middle School, gives Mohammed Aziz some tips“It’s all about the experience,” he said. “These are inner-city kids. Our school is 60 percent African-American, 40 percent from Bangladesh. Some of them have only been in the country a short while. They’re meeting new people, different people than they’ve ever interacted with before.”

Sarah Staten, an eighth-grader at Davison who said she did “better than I expected” at the event, said she was particularly pleased with the interaction she had with another competitor during the event.

“It was amazing,” she said. “I learned a lot from my shooting partner. He was from Gaylord St. Mary’s and he was really friendly and helpful – he gave me some tips.”

And that’s what is expected, Garland said.

Shooters remove their target after completing a round at state archery tournament in Mt. Pleasant.“In all seriousness, helping students develop their social skills is part of the program,” she said.

Jose Ramirez, who teaches gym at the Academy of America School on Detroit’s Southwest Side, said he couldn’t bring as many youngsters as he would have liked because of limited space on the bus. He saw his elementary schoolers finish second in the event, their first time at a competition.

“None of them had ever shot archery before,” Ramirez said, beaming.

But even more important is the lessons the kids are learning.

“This is a life skill,” Ramirez said. “When they start out, they experience every negative emotion they can – they’re nervous, scared, frustrated and angry at being nervous or scared. But once they start hitting that target, their self-esteem grows. They become more confident. They’re learning how to conquer obstacles.

Sister Marie Janae prepares kids from St. Thomas School for their round at state NASP tournament.“This is a great experience for our kids – to be able to come here and compete with all these different kids in a college environment. Now they have a common experience with kids from Gaylord and Hartland – a common experience that binds them.”

Garland said she was tickled that the Detroit youngsters did so well.

“In more rural areas, archery and shooting skills are a way of life, a part of everyday life,” she said. “The urban schools are different. A lot of them know nothing about archery. Some of the kids have never even seen a bow and arrow.

“People who you might not think would be into archery are doing it and doing it well. We’re definitely reaching people who we haven’t reached before. It’s a diverse population.”

The diversity at the tournament is inspiring. Some of the teams, from more long-established programs, wear snazzy jerseys complete with corporate sponsors. Some teams wear T-shirts. And at least one Catholic school had its team decked out in their school uniforms.

The teams vary in size, and in the size of their commitment.

Grand Ledge coach Kelly Shaltry brought close to 100 youngsters to compete in elementary, middle school and high school divisions. A history teacher at Grand Ledge High School, Shaltry started the district’s program three years ago. He’s been extremely successful.

“The first year, the high school team made the nationals,” Shaltry said. “Last year they made the nationals and the worlds. By the time the freshmen graduate, we want a state title.”

(Grand Ledge fell shy of that state title this year as perennial champion Hartland walked away with the bulk of the trophies.)

Shaltry said that thanks to the DNR and Safari Club International, he obtained the resources to build a program that’s in the high school, middle school and two elementary schools. “It’s one of the largest sports we have,” he said 

In contrast, St. Joseph School in Wayne, a K-12 Catholic school with a total enrollment of 18 students, brought a team of 11 boys and girls – every student who was eligible for the program.

“We started the program in January,” said Sister Mary Petra, the school’s principal. “We practiced in a local auto repair shop. I love the program because it’s so interactive among the levels. You can have a third-grader shooting next to a senior. They’re not relegated by age level or ability or grade level.”

Although the National Archery in the Schools Program continues to grow in Michigan, there are still plenty of schools that are not in the program, Garland said. She’d like them to know they’re welcome, too.

For more information on Michigan’s Archery in the Schools Program, visit www.michigan.gov/archery.