After hoping to see the National Archery in Schools Program initiated in the Clover School District for a number of years, it finally happened when Oakridge Middle started a team a couple of years back.
I never understood how it only came to be at that one school but, this year, we finally saw it spread into Clover Middle.
Last spring, CMS teacher Rich Myrick and I started having discussions about what we needed to do to initiate the program within the school and formed a plan.
He had the discussion with Principal Calub Courtwright, and was quick to receive the green light for the two of us to form and coach a team during the 2014-15 school year.
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If you’re not aware of the NASP program, it began as the Kentucky Archery in Schools Program in 2001 when educators were looking for ways to improve student motivation, attention, behavior, attendance and focus, while the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife was trying to find a way to get kids more involved in the outdoors.
The state’s natural resources agency was convinced that learning the target shooting skills of archery would result in both character and self-reliance development for students and the Kentucky Department of Education bought into the whole idea.
Initially, the hopes and dreams of this partnership was that within three years they would have at least 120 schools within the Bluegrass State taking part in the program.
When they accomplished that goal within the first year they knew they were on to something. In no time, other states were showing interest in what they were doing.
A name change quickly followed and a nationwide program was born.
Today, students across the country from fourth to 12th grades are eligible to take part and, for an old lover of both archery and the outdoors like me, it’s a thing of beauty.
After attending the required training through the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and each receiving our NASP instructor’s certification last summer, Rich and I were all set and looking forward to getting started.
Still, a few questions remained.
Would we get much interest from the students? And would their parents be supportive of this nontraditional team sport?
An even bigger concern was how we were going to come up with the equipment – bows, arrows, the required tools and targets for the group.
With a cost of more than $5,000, that part had us worried.
As our initial team meeting arrived in October, all of our fears had been put to rest. We had received a grant from the state that completely covered the cost of everything we needed to get started.
More than 20 students came out to be a part of the program and even several enthusiastic parents turned up at those early practices just to see what it was all about. The one thing we hadn’t really questioned early began to become a concern.
Could we teach them?
The first day that we placed bows in their hands, most all of our participants were holding one for the first time.
Even at just a few yards away, many were doing well just to hit somewhere on the target, and I have no problem admitting that I had at least one thought that maybe we had bitten off a bit more than we could chew.
With a little work and time on the range, however, it became obvious that our enthusiastic bunch was learning at an incredible pace and we were thrilled.
This is especially true considering that, unlike the traditional sports that gathered daily for practice, our opportunities came but twice per week and none got to spend time with the equipment outside of those times.
By Thanksgiving, the Clover Middle School archery team looked like a group of shooters who had been at it for a long time.
All were shooting from as far back as 15 meters, the farthest shot taken in NASP competition, and their arrow groupings were getting tighter and tighter.
Even at that distance, quite a few of them were hitting the center ring more often than not and it was extremely satisfying to see the smiles on their faces.
Despite all of the success during practices, this is still a competitive sport, a fact not lost on us as the days crept closer to our first regional shoot. Myrick and I started to feel a little nervous again.
Last Tuesday, the big day finally arrived. We loaded the whole team onto a bus at 6 a.m. and hit the road for Anderson to take part in our state’s NASP Region 1 Archery Tournament.
By this time it was obvious the kids’ nerves were far less rattled than my own, but I could still sense a tad bit of tension from them once we arrived.
This was pretty understandable, though, because, despite being a first-year team, we had been scheduled to shoot in the first flight of the day.
Without the opportunity to witness any other team in any form of competition, the Clover Middle School archery team stood toe-to-toe with several other schools.
Not only was this definitely a handicap, it was their first experience shooting for an audience as the stands were packed with parents from all over.
It’s with a great amount of pride that I can report that our bunch held their own.
With a maximum score of 300 over six rounds of shooting from various distances, half of our team scored well above 200 with six of them in the range of 250. Our highest scoring archer, Hollis Smith, took top honors for CMS with a score of 252.
Yep. You read that right.
Much to the chagrin of our boys on the team, a girl bested them. They’ll hate that I told it, but the gals have stayed a step ahead since day one and it made for some pretty interesting competition throughout our practice season.
I can’t put into words how proud I am of our kids or just how much I’ve enjoyed working with them this year and I’m already looking forward to all we’ll do come the school year of 2015-16.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.