WINNSBORO — The bowstring became taut up beside her ear. She exhaled and whoosh, an arrow headed for its target.
No this is not a scene with Katniss Everdeen and the Hunger Games Trilogy. This is enrichment class at Richard Winn Academy. The academy partnered with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to introduce an archery in schools program. Coach Al Berry got the school to take part in the program which started as a pilot program in Kentucky about 10 years ago.
Berry previously taught archery at Dutch Fork High School, so he recommended it as an enrichment activity.
“It’s a fun sport. Almost anyone can participate so long as they learn the proper safety procedures,” Berry said.
Berry said the best part is that this is a sport students can do with their parents and it is a skill they can develop for the rest of their lives. Despite the emphasis on structure and on skills work, Berry said that the students who take archery still find the class fun.
DNR Sgt. Dennetta Jackson said the archery industry was looking for a way to make baseline progress for archery instruction. South Carolina is the 20th state to adopt this program, which works in tandem with local DNR and Wildlife Programming.
For Jessie Stidham this is the second time she has taken archery during enrichment class time. She finds similarities between archery and basketball.
“You have to keep your mind focused (on both) but have fun with it,” she said.
Stidham and several other students said that making adjustments was the biggest challenge to archery.
Jessie is probably the best shot in the group, said sophomore Matt Taylor.
“She listens the most and has the most concentration when she shoots,” Taylor said.
For Taylor the most fun comes from just shooting, though he and his classmates do have friendly competition to see who gets the high score that day.
“This is a good activity for a lot of schools,” Taylor said. “It’s a pretty safe sport if you do it right.”
Safety is emphasized with tools like Kevlar safety netting in place. Berry signals with a whistle and sometimes with voice commands. DNR also helped him and RWA to get a grant to pay for some archery equipment. Students use arrows with sharp tips but only with 10-30 pounds of draw on the bows. That means the arrows do not shoot as fast which is an added safety feature. Arm guards also are used by the students to protect their forearms from coming in contact with the bow string.
Bow resistance is adjusted with an Allen wrench, making them suitable for students from grade 4 to grade 12. Students stand in a waiting line, then move to a shooting line on a whistle command. They cannot retrieve arrows until given the release to do so by their instructor. Berry received training two years ago from the DNR Education Section that qualified him as an archery instructor.
According to Jackson, a teacher with almost no experience in archery can be trained to teach it using DNR’s structured, regimented program. Target shooting is all this program teaches, though if students are interested in bow hunting they are given resources for DNR’s Take one, make one program.
Jackson said that many schools do a two-week period in P.E. class, but Richard Winn allows students to choose archery as one of the elective credits for enrichment classwork over a nine week period. Some junior ROTC programs around the state have begun archery programs because of the regimented, structured nature of the instruction.
According to Jackson, about 302 public and private schools in South Carolina offer archery and about 480 teachers are in the DNR program.
The RWA grant helped the school buy a kit containing 60 arrows, 10 right-hand bows and 2 left-hand bows. It also contained a repair kit, a bow rack, and arrow-resistant Kevlar netting. The Kevlar allows the class to be taught in a school’s gym, though teachers have the option of teaching it outside if the weather is good.
DNR said that they are very safety conscious with the program.
“The students have to be careful and consistent,” Jackson said. “The arrow point is about like a pencil point. Students must hold on to the arrow shafts and points while they carry them back from the target to put the arrow in their quivers.
There is not an archery team at RWA but at some schools throughout the state, students are on teams and compete in local tournaments. Virtual tournament scores can be submitted online to DNR until Feb. 22. The top finishers in elementary, middle and high schools will get to compete in a state tournament in March. The Elementary and Middle Schools competed on March 21 and the high school teams follow on March 22. The competition is part of the Palmetto Sportsman’s Classic. First, second and third place distinctions are awarded to all three age divisions. In elementary school the competition is split by boy and girl, too.
Those winners are eligible for the national tournament held in May. Last year 850 students competed in the state tournament and at nationals there were nearly 9,000 students competing in three days.