The idea of putting a bow and arrow into the hands of a bunch of middle schoolers — indoors, no less — might seem like questionable judgment at first.
But Elaine Miller, physical education instructor at Our Lady of the Holy Souls School in Little Rock, sees it differently.
“Some of our kids are really into archery, some of them go bow hunting with their parents, some of them have worked with the Game and Fish Commission, some of them have done it with Boy Scouts,” she said. “We had some of our students and parents express interest in offering it here.”
Miller, whose three children all attended Holy Souls and who is in her fourth year in the P.E. job, was intrigued at the possibility of offering something that not only appealed to the existing enthusiasts, but gave an alternate activity for students to discover who might not excel at other sports.
“One of our primary goals in physical education is to encourage fitness and active hobbies for life,” she said. “We are always looking for ways to encourage our students to be involved in activities.”
“This is one of those things that might appeal to kids who don’t necessarily excel in basketball, volleyball or whatever,” principal Ileana Dobbins said. “We want to give those kids something they can get excited about.”
Miller discovered the Arkansas National Archery in the Schools Program (ANASP) — the state branch of the National Archery in the Schools Program — administered by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. It offers schools a turnkey archery package for classrooms and competition, complete with access to equipment and training for teachers and other adult sponsors.
Miller, who was longer on enthusiasm than experience, attended a one-day Basic Archery Instructor training camp as a rank beginner. She came away more excited than ever to put this into play at Holy Souls.
“Archery is more of a personal sport,” she said. “You don’t have to be big and strong or fast, you have to pay attention and be disciplined. Those of us who are not big strong people can shoot. I found I can shoot with either hand because I happen to be in that dual dominant-eye range. And so to me that was kind of cool.”
The archery program is tightly controlled, almost choreographed, to keep the average middle schooler’s attention on the business at hand.
A maximum of five archers shoot at one time, three arrows each. On the floor are three lines: The shooter’s line, a waiting line for the next shooter (akin to the on-deck circle in baseball) and a third line closest to the targets to which the shooters advance on command after all have shot to pull arrows from the target and return them to the quivers.
A 10-foot curtain is permanently mounted along one wall of the gym to serve as a backstop for wayward shots, preserving both arrows and facility.
“Everything is very precise and controlled and if there’s any problem with any child they sit on the bleachers,” Miller said. “Our plan is to have at least one parent in here with me when we have classes, especially at first until we get used to doing it. If we don’t have that parent volunteer, Principal Dobbins has volunteered to be here and that will give us pretty good control of the kids.”
The program was partially paid for through a $1,375 ANASP grant, funds matched by the school. Equipment purchased besides the backdrop and targets included a dozen right and left-handed Genesis compound bows specially calibrated for young archers, a bowrack, 120 arrows and a repair kit.
Kimberly Cabinets of Cabot, owned by a Holy Souls parishioner family, custom built and donated six free-standing quivers and a locking storage cabinet for the equipment.
The program accommodates students as young as fourth grade, but the Holy Souls class is open to sixth through eighth grades only. The first class on archery will be conducted after Easter but next year, Miller plans one archery-only day per month, to help reduce the amount of set-up and tear-down of required equipment.
Next year, the school will introduce archery as an extra-curricular activity, something also made possible by the ANASP, which maintains eight competitive regions across the state.
Pulaski County schools are in Region 6, which includes 11 central and east-central counties. From the regional meet, archers can advance to state, national and even world championships.
Miller said as the program develops, she is looking forward to adding other invitational competitions to the schedule.
For now, she’s most pleased with the enthusiasm the new activity is generating among her students.
“Over the last couple of months, I found out just how many more of them are interested or already involved in archery,” she said. “I’ve been happy that most of the kids are very excited about it. We have a couple of kids who don’t think it’s cool enough for them, but the majority of them are extremely excited about it.”
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