Several Creston students are discovering they enjoy knocking a hole in a target with a bow and arrow, thanks to a national archery program that partners with schools across the country.
And, an offshoot of the archery unit being taught in Creston Community Schools is the development of Creston Archery Team (CAT) that will send approximately 15 participants to their first competition Saturday in Afton.
Local organizers hope it’s just the tip of the arrow, so to speak, of a fast-growing discipline. More than 40 students have indicated interest in being members of the club.
“Sometimes kids come to class and kind of roll their eyes like they’re not going to like it,” said physical education teacher Mitch Sorensen. “Then when they hit that bullseye for the first time, it’s like something clicks for them. They can’t wait to shoot again. The neat thing is, this is attracting some kids who aren’t participating in a lot of other activities.”
Girls and boys alike are showing up for club practices to enhance the skills they learned in PE class. And, some of the younger club members haven’t had the archery unit in school yet, but have found they enjoy the sport.
“I like it,” said sixth-grader Hayden Ray. “It’s fun shooting and practicing with other people.”
The archery sessions taught in grades 6-12 in Creston public schools are associated with National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP), a joint venture between the Iowa Departments of Natural Resources and Education. The program began in Kentucky in 2002 and now has more than 2.3 million students participating nationwide.
Several archery equipment manufacturers and organizations are also partners in training and equipping the schools.
The program’s focus is to provide international-style target archery training in physical education classes. If their school has that curriculum, students can participate in NASP competitions such as the one held last week in Diagonal and this weekend’s event in Afton.
Archery is already thriving in those school districts. Creston physical education teacher Eric Ehlen was certified while teaching in Mount Ayr, and brought the concept to Creston last year. He organized a training session held over winter break a year ago attended by educators Craig Taylor, Lucian Diaconu, Mike McCabe, Richard Siglin, Tammi Latham, Paula Jacobson and Sorensen.
“The kids enjoyed it when we had it in Mount Ayr and I thought it would be something new and fun for our kids to do up here,” Ehlen said.
Students at the middle school level had the unit last spring, and this year high school students recently completed the training in PE. It will be taught at the middle school level again in the spring.
“I wrote the grants for equipment,” Ehlen said. “NASP does a half-share agreement that provided about $1,600 with the other half provided by Whitetails Unlimited. Then the Randy Hagle Memorial contributed another $1,600 to the archery program. At first we had 12 bows, five targets, the arrows and the nets. Then with Randy’s donation, we bought four more bows, another net and five targets. So, now we only have to share the bows and arrows between the two school buildings.”
The club, organized by Siglin in conjunction with several parents, borrows and maintains the school equipment this year. But, several sponsors have indicated interest in funding the club to obtain its own equipment. There is also a plan underway to provide a practice area separate from the school.
“As you might imagine, getting gym time in the winter is difficult with all of the different activities going on,” Siglin said. “It was tough getting a regular practice time.”
Last Sunday afternoon, several club members practiced in the Creston Community Middle School storm gym to practice shooting at targets from 10 meters and 15 meters, the distances used in NASP competition.
Parents Jessie Carter, Melissa Heatherington and Tosha Shelley said interest is growing and more adults plan to become certified through the Basic Archery Instructor (BAI) course administrated by DNR personnel (see related story). They’re also working with companies and private individuals interested in sponsoring club equipment.
Carter and Heatherington are experienced archers. Carter is a past silver medalist in the Iowa Games and competes in events throughout Iowa and Nebraska. Heatherington’s background is more in bow hunting. Both have children interested in the sport and plan to become certified instructors.
“There is such a big interest that it really takes a team of coaches to help run a successful practice,” Heatherington said.
“I got trained by Spencer Bretsch at Lost Arrows Archery School in Earlham,” said Carter, “and he’s been a big help as we’ve gotten the club started. Last year during (fifth grade) Colonial Days, Melissa and I were brought in to help with the archery part. We were really excited when they brought it to the school’s PE program. There aren’t many things anymore that can get kids to unplug and force them to calm down. Archery is a great activity.”
Both Carter and Ehlen said concerns about safety are alleviated through the regimented system of class instruction and practices. A whistle command is used to step to the shooting line and “load” the bows. Participants wait for another command to shoot and yet another to advance to the target area and retrieve their bows.
“It’s zero tolerance, too,” Carter said. “If the kids screw around at all, they can’t do it.”
Sophomore Beau Barncastle, also a baseball player for Creston Community High School, has a bow hunting background with his father and found the archery club to be a fun winter activity. Students can also shoot in 3D (three-dimensional animal targets) competitions in the spring and summer.
“I hunted with my dad and when I heard about this (club), I thought, ‘I love archery so I might as well try it,’” said Barncastle, who plans to compete Saturday in Afton.
“I’d like to host a tournament here,” Siglin said. “After Eric got it going in the PE classes but wasn’t really involved in running a club, I thought I’d see if anyone else wanted to take this a little further. All of a sudden I’m hauling bows back and forth in my Mustang. We have a lot of kids enjoying it. Since you have to have the unit in your school in order to shoot at these NASP events, we’ve been talking to some of the teachers at St. Malachy and Mayflower to see about taking the training.”
Veteran PE teacher Craig Taylor said he taught archery many years ago in the basement of the Eagles Club before the current high school was built in 1989. He said this program is much more advanced.
“These are compound Genesis bows, which is the official bow for the National Archery in the Schools Program,” Taylor said. “It’s a training bow. They don’t have the sights on them like a hunting bow. They shoot from both 10 meters and 15 meters. There are a lot of kids doing well in it in class. They really love it after they try it. The highest score we’ve had so far is 44 points out of 50.”
Carter said many students who don’t excel in other sports have found their niche. In fact, her son Max was shooting next to a girl in a wheelchair during the Diagonal event last weekend. It’s a sport open to those with disabilities who can’t play other sports.
“And then you have some of the really good athletes who have that eye-hand coordination and they’re pretty good at it, too,” Taylor said. “It’s really something that’s open to everybody.”
Anyone interested can contact club officials by email at email@example.com or by logging onto the Creston Archery Team (CAT) page on Facebook.
“With more instructors we think the practices can become more structured and successful, so we invite anyone who thinks they’d like it to give it a try,” Heatherington said.