Two years after the first Archery Academy in Doswell, Va., the sport is growing. The Academy – hosted by the Archery Trade Association, USA Archery and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries – taught archery basics to 26 employees of state parks and recreation departments. The employees also learned how to certify others to teach archery fundamentals.
Wyatt Kingston, a recreation specialist in Richmond, attended the Academy in May 2011. He said the classes taught him about a unique sport, and how to introduce people of all ages to what could become a lifelong passion.
“You’re going to do something with your time 24/7, whether you’re eating, sleeping, playing video games, doing something good or bad,” Kingston said. “Kids will do what’s at hand and what everyone else is doing. My goal is to help others pick up a positive hobby that will keep them busy and out of trouble.”
Coaching and mentoring youths has long been important to Kingston, who has volunteered and coached inner-city youths since 1980. Kingston recalls meeting a young man nearly three decades ago while coaching in Blackwell, Va., then one of the nation’s most dangerous neighborhoods. The chance meeting solidified Kingston’s purpose in life.
“I was coaching a 14-year-old boy on my football and basketball teams, which kept him and other kids busy in the fall, but there were no activities for the kids in spring,” Kingston said. “So this boy turned to drugs. He also killed nine people between age 14 and 16, and was killed at age 16. I’ve always remembered him. That experience made me more determined to introduce people – especially teens – to positive pursuits.”
Giving kids and families opportunities to do active, positive things together is an idea that resonates with archery enthusiasts. Archery is gaining popularity nationwide because it’s one of the few sports accessible to everyone, regardless of age, size, strength or physical ability.
Surveys from the ATA and the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association suggest about 9 million people shoot archery each year in the United States. This includes bowhunting and recreational target archery.
Zoe Irwin, assistant manager at the Sterling Community Center in Sterling, Va., also recognizes archery’s benefits. She attended the 2011 Archery Academy, and has since seen her community’s archery program flourish. In fact, archery is the community center’s most popular family sport.
“I signed up to attend the Archery Academy because it sounded new and different,” Irwin said. “I tried archery many years ago as a Girl Scout, but I didn’t anticipate how exciting it would be to try the sport again as an adult and learn to instruct others.”
Irwin credits archery for fulfilling a community need she didn’t know existed. The first classes targeted youths, but expanded to adults as interest from parents grew. The community center now offers three classes for youths and one for adults each quarter, and all four classes quickly fill to capacity. The center’s two beginner summer camps are already full and two intermediate summer camps are nearly full.
Irwin thinks if more people were certified and willing to teach archery, additional classes and programs would also fill. Archery academies fulfill the need for certified trainers, who can then train others in safe archery practices.
“The Archery Academy was well designed and taught us everything from the ground up,” Irwin said. “We learned the different parts of the bow, how to determine our dominant eye, and how to decide if we should shoot left- or right-handed. These all are things we would need to teach beginners in our classes. We also got to shoot crossbows and recurve and compound bows.”
Kingston agrees more training opportunities are imperative if archery is to reach its potential, mainly because training dispels many common fears about archery. The most common belief, he says, is that archery is unsafe because it requires a bow and arrow.
“People often fear archery because they regard a bow and arrow as weapons,” Kingston said. “But the truth is, archery is one of the safest and most disciplined sports. Plus it improves confidence, strength and concentration. Once a person tries archery, they realize it’s fun and safe. People who shoot archery aren’t thinking about shooting each other. They are only focused on hitting the bulls-eye.”