Shooting For More Youth Archers Across The State

ALEXANDRIA, LA (AP) — When it comes to archery, the smaller the circle, the closer to a bulls eye. But the target for Archery in Louisiana Schools has been expanding the circle of schools.

         It has hit the mark, according to Robert Stroede, state coordinator for the program run by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

         The recent Cenla Shootout south regional tournament at Louisiana State University at Alexandria attracted 558 kids from 22 schools. The tournament in the LSU AgCenter's State Storm Shelter drew more students than a state tournament just a couple years ago, Stroede said.

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         "We've doubled the educators trained to teach archery," Stroede said. "We've added several school programs just in Rapides Parish."

         The program has never needed regional tournaments before, Stroede said. The north regional tournament will be in Bossier City on Jan. 31.

         Students from fourth to 12th grade compete in three divisions — secondary, middle school and elementary.

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         The top three teams and the top five kids in each division qualify for the state tournament March 7 at LSUA.

         First place at state wins a shot at the national title in Kentucky.

         Stroede attributed the sport's growing popularity to a couple of factors.

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         First, the National Archery in Schools Program incorporates archery into the school's curriculum rather than making it an extracurricular activity.

         "It's not after school, it's a part of P.E. so every kid is exposed," Stroede said. "That allows us to catch more kids."

         Learning to shoot a bow and arrow is also more than fun and games.

         J.I. Barron Elementary coaches and their teams sported matching t-shirts at the competition Saturday with three words — focus, discipline and confidence.

         Students who take archery consistently show improvement in those three areas, said coaches Dana Bonnette and Bridget Moreau.

         "It's just really neat to see," Bonnette said. "It's become one of the most popular sports. it's bigger than little league right now."

         "Schools see the program is not only fun, but it benefits the students by teaching them focus and discipline, and that benefits the schools," Stroede said.

         Xavier Griffin, a sixth-grader at Phoenix Magnet Elementary in Alexandria, is one of those students.

         When he first picked up a bow last year, he constantly felt frustrated. But as he learned to slow down and concentrate, he improved.

         "Last year, I wasn't that happy," he said. "I just kept pacing myself, and I got it this year."

         "I love archery so much now."

         At the tournament, Griffin was still positioning his shot when other kids had emptied their quivers and taken their seats.

         "I kinda looked like I was the last one," he said. "I was taking my time, talking to God, concentrating and focusing."

         "I learned you can't hurry up and just let go… you have to pace yourself to get the shot you want."

         Learning patience has helped him in other school subjects, Griffin said.

         "Last year, I was having some trouble, but this year I've slowed down and paid attention in class," he said. "You have to slow down, and then you'll get what you want out of what you're doing."

         Despite the benefits for students like Griffin, there is one drawback for schools — the expense of bows, arrows and targets.

         The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries offers some grants, but also depends on support from sponsors.

         "It is something that communities can really get behind," Stroede said. "We're always looking for sponsors to help offset the costs."

         Locally, several businesses and organizations have stepped up. Louisiana Archery and Sports Center Owner David Cross offers discounts and help whenever possible to the clubs at Rapides Schools.

         "We felt like it would be beneficial to our youth," Cross said. "And they're the future of the sport."

         Enthusiasm across the country for archery took a bit longer to catch on in "sportsman's paradise," Cross said.

         He said it is good finally to see more kids showing an interest.

         Cross started shooting at 5 years old when his dad made him a bow out of sticks and a piece of string.

         "I would have been in this program," he said. "No doubt about it."

         He plans to continue showing his support and helping set up at the upcoming tournaments.

         "It's just a great program," he said. "We've been on board since they've started."

         – by AP/ Reporter Miranda Quartemont with The Town Talk

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