NEW ULM, Minn. — Teens in Loudon County, Va., can feed their need for archery thanks to a hands-on program based on "The Hunger Games" book series.
Six area libraries will host day-long events incorporating the Archery Trade Association's (ATA) Explore Bowhunting program, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF).
"During this program, the idea is that the kids are preparing for combat much like the characters did in the books," said Lawton Clites, DGIF regional archery outreach coordinator. "Trying something they've read in a book or seen in a movie will be thrilling."
Youth age 12 to 16 will rotate through stations where they will build a shelter, identify animal tracks and develop a camouflage pattern. Although archery targets won't be set up for shooting during the classes due to space restrictions, they'll be prepared to take the next step in archery by also learning problem-solving and decision-making skills. Both concepts are facets of Explore Bowhunting, the first step on the pathway to becoming an educated and safe hunter.
Virginia DGIF works to grow archery in many ways. The most notable project has been working with ATA to recruit new archers. As part of a new recruitment plan, parks and recreation agencies can request grant funding to build a new archery range or set one up in an existing park. Access to archery parks is vital to growing the sport - especially in Virginia where there are currently few public archery parks.
"Kids get fired up about archery," said Jennifer Mazur, ATA coordinator of archery and bowhunting programs. "They try it and want to keep doing it, but often they can't find archery parks or classes. They must be able to go somewhere nearby to practice or else they'll lose interest."
In addition to recruiting young archers, DGIF and ATA are active in teaching archery to adults who can then instruct youth. Earlier this year the partners hosted an archery academy that trained 16 full-time parks and recreation employees, who could then teach their seasonal staff to become archery instructors. DGIF and ATA also support a cooperative position that coordinates opportunities for young enthusiasts to learn about archery.
This year the school board for Mecklenburg County in south-central Virginia made a notable step toward ingraining archery in their communities when they adopted the Explore Bowhunting curriculum as part of their outdoors skill program for all middle- and high-school students. Explore Bowhunting offers a diverse curriculum with enough material to generate a full-semester of lessons.
Through Explore Bowhunting and other initiatives including National Archery in the Schools Program and Junior Olympic Archery Development, Mazur says archery is in position to reach that proverbial tipping point and move into the mainstream much like soccer did in the 1990s. The industry is readying itself to leverage the archery upswing pop culture continues to dictate.
Archery is thriving in other areas as well.
A recent article in "The Washington Post" noted that, in the area surrounding Washington, D.C., every summer archery camp had a waiting list, and that archery workshops were the first to fill up at traditional camps. MLive.com cited an archery teacher as saying he'd had to turn away 20 people per archery class near Saginaw, Mich., lately because he can only teach 12 students at a time.
"The Chicago Tribune" credits "The Hunger Games" for making "archery" and "cool" synonymous while "The StarTribune" notes that more tweens and early teenagers are signing up for archery in Minnesota.
While new movies and other pop-culture references have made the sport relevant to a new audience, they were hardly the beginning of archery's popularity. Virginia is one of many states that began laying the groundwork long ago to make archery available statewide.
"Books and movies have done a lot of leg work by getting kids excited enough about archery that they're asking to learn more," said Clites. "Thankfully, we've already built an infrastructure that will support the current interest in archery and also grow the sport."
Five of six "The Hunger Games"-themed programs at Loudon County libraries will begin in January of 2013 and end in March; the last event is planned in the fall of 2013 to coincide with the release of the second Hunger Games movie.