ALLIANCE, Ohio — The whistle blows. Meagan Gravlee calmly walks to the rack of bows and selects her favorite. She strides to her mark, 10 meters from the target.
Carefully loading an arrow, the archer stares straight ahead at the goal. Raising her bow, she takes aim. She fires.
Four more shots yield one bulls-eye and three others that strike the target, but not the center. It’s just practice, so she’ll take it.
* * *
Gravlee, an eighth-grader at Alliance Middle School, is one of 20 young archers from her school who will head to Columbus this Friday to compete in the Ohio National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) state tournament.
The third annual event will be held in the Lausche Building at the Ohio Expo Center. It is held in cooperation with the Arnold Sports Festival, a sports and fitness extravaganza named after former body builder and current California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The festival runs March 6-8.
This will be the first year the team from Alliance will compete in the event. The squad will shoot in the first flight on Friday at 9 a.m. The bus leaves at 5:30 a.m.
“I’m nervous, but excited,” said Gravlee after a recent practice in the school’s gymnasium. “It will be fun, but I’m not sure about all the formal stuff at the tournament. I hope I don’t mess something up.
“Archery is cool and I did it at some summer camps. I like medieval stuff, so archery is pretty neat.”
The Alliance team consists of 15 boys and five girls and includes students from sixth, seventh and eighth grades. During practices, which began in October, groups of five students take a total of 10 shots from two distances. Simulating the state competition, they first fire five arrows from 10 meters away, then five more from the 15-meter mark.
There is less pressure in practice, when they are not timed, but at the state tournament, each competitor must get off five shots in two minutes.
The state tournament will feature 34 teams from across Ohio, as well as some students competing as individuals. In all, 840 competitors are registered. There are elementary, middle and high school divisions.
The winning team in each division earns a spot in the national championships. Additional teams may register if their team score qualifies. Also, the top five individuals in each division qualify for nationals.
In 2008, a team from Ohio, Meigs Intermediate School Elementary, won the national title in its division.
* * *
The state event is the culmination of eight months of hard work and fun for the Alliance archery club that got its start last summer as a one-week summer school class.
The school received a $1,000 grant from the Ohio Division of Wildlife, which maintains the state’s NASP curriculum. The school was required to match the grant with another $1,000 and the total was used to buy equipment.
Jan Webler, Alliance City Schools Director of Pupil Services, initiated the process by obtaining the grant and seeking out someone for the instructor training.
“It was a way to promote archery in the school and it sounded like fun,” said Kim Knowles, the school’s certified archery instructor. “They called me and asked if I would oversee it, so they sent me to training.”
Teachers attend a one-day basic archery instructor training class to become certified to present the class to students. Training is conducted by Division of Wildlife staff and volunteers who are certified trainers and is provided at no cost.
After drawing interest in the summer session, the archery program was offered during the school year. Due to limited equipment and safety issues, the class was limited to just 20 participants, although more were interested.
“We could have more students, but we only have so much money for equipment and safety is our No. 1 priority,” said Knowles.
* * *
For some of the young archers, the program fuels the desire to participate in an extracurricular activity that focuses on fun first and competition second.
The program curriculum is written and fits the physical education standards, so it’s easily implemented. All equipment is standard, so all students are equal.
“We try to keep it low-key,” said Knowles. “We don’t put pressure on the kids, but we still have goals and work toward the tournament. The biggest plus is that some kids that aren’t interested in other sports can do something where they might shine.
“I think the kids like the idea that they are in total control when they are up there and they have the ability to make adjustments if a shot is too high or too low. And they can visually see the improvement when they hit that target.”
* * *
Sixth-grader Will Oesch chose archery to keep busy before baseball season starts this spring.
“It’s fun and challenging trying to hit the middle,” said Oesch. “I didn’t have a sport going on right now, so I thought this would be fun. Aiming is the hardest part, but after your first shot, you can see what to do to improve.”
He’s looking forward to the state tournament and expects the large venue with a big crowd to present just as much challenge as hitting the bulls-eye.
“It will be nerve-wracking with all the people and it being a big competition,” he said. “But you have to get past it and block everything out. You just go up there and shoot and hit and not think about it.”
* * *
Ohio joined the National Archery in the Schools Program in April 2004 with 12 school districts participating. The program expanded statewide in January 2005 and there are now 256 schools in the Ohio program.
In 2006, coordinating members of the Arnold Sports Festival were looking for a program that would involve more youth in their archery event. They contacted the NASP national office, which referred them to the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Kevin Dixon, Ohio’s shooting sports coordinator and administrator, met with one of the event coordinators to discuss the Ohio NASP state tournament in conjunction with the sports festival. The first event was held in 2007 at the Veteran’s Memorial.
The school archery program has been so successful that 46 U.S. states, as well as Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand have joined. In all, more than 5,000 schools are currently teaching the program.
“Who would have imagined that the program would become what it is today in just a few years,” said Dixon. “Educators need a program that offers both individual and group achievement, while teaching life lessons like self-respect, self-improvement, pride, social interaction and discipline. NASP is all that and more.”
* * *
Student interest was high from the onset and, if it’s up to Knowles, the class will be offered again next year.
“It’s really been fun and the kids have been great,” said Knowles. “I’m hoping we can do it again next year, if the equipment holds up. A few of the targets had been used before and are pretty worn, so, I’m not sure about the costs of replacing equipment. But if the money is there and the interest is there, I think we’ll keep doing it.”
(The author is a senior copy editor at Farm and Dairy and can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at email@example.com.)