INEZ — Wesley Christian School seventh grader Zoie Morrison stepped up to the line and placed an arrow on her bow. A line of student archers stretched to her right across the gym.
As she drew back the string, Morrison took aim and shot the arrow to its target 15 meters away, about 50 feet. She said she had shot pretty well from 10 meters, and “OK” from 15 meters for the day.
“I’ve been told that I have good aim,” she said.
She finished the tournament with 218 of 300 possible points.
Morrison was one of around 250 students who participated in the National Archery in the Schools Program Region 13 Tournament, held Saturday at Sheldon Clark High School in Martin County.
NASP, which was started in Kentucky about 10 years ago, is getting bows and arrows in the hands of school children across the state, country and world.
Kentucky has the largest NASP membership of any state or country, said state coordinator Patrick O’Connell.
An estimated 1,200 Kentucky schools participate in the program, and 150,000 would be a fair description of the number of Kentucky students who shoot in NASP, he said. To be a participant of the program schools must have archery as part of an in-school curriculum every two years.
Archery teaches students confidence, O’Connell said, and provides extracurricular activities for students who may not be able to participate in other sports. He said the ratio of boys to girls at tournaments is about 60-40.
Blaine Depoy, owner of Blaine’s Guns and Bows in Allen, described archery as an “equal-opportunity” sport, because students do not have to be the fastest or the most athletic to participate.
Depoy has two children who shoot archery at Adams Middle School, and he said archery in schools gives him goosebumps.
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen come into the schools,” he said.
Each student shoots 30 arrows — 15 from 10 meters and 15 from 15 meters, Depoy said. All students use the same bows, a Genesis compound bow, which has pulleys that help them pull the string of the bow. All archers use the same arrows, too, Depoy said: “Same bow. Same arrow. Same distance.”
His son, Wesley, a sixth-grader, said archery is something that he’s good at. He practiced shooting his Genesis bow at a target in the back of his dad’s store.
“It’s in my blood,” he said.
Archery can be a stress relief for students, said Katie Haymes, the state coordinator for Explore Bowhunting, a state Department of Fish and Wildlife program.
Haymes said Explore Bowhunting takes archery out in the field for students and teaches them other skills like wildlife calls and animal tracking. “Everybody can do it,” she said. “It’s not a limiting sport.”
NASP was started by Fish and Wildlife and the state Department of Education in 2001, O’Connell said. Fish and Wildlife wanted to get more kids outside, and the education department hoped to boost attendance by giving students an incentive to come to school.
Brian Coleman, the NASP regional coordinator, said the tournament was also a Kentucky High School Athletic Association regional tournament.
The tournament was for schools from Floyd, Pike, Martin, Johnson, Magoffin and Lawrence counties.
Students compete for individual and team awards. Coleman said NASP teams must consist of 16 to 24 students, with at least five students coming from a gender other than the majority.
O’Connell said 17 separate groups were participating in the tournament, representing more than 10 schools.
Eric Hall, a Floyd County district judge and secretary of East Kentucky Archery, helped out at the tournament. He said Floyd County “has led the pack for several years” in tournament participation.
Teams from Adams Middle School, Allen Central Middle School, Allen Central High School, Allen Elementary School, Betsy Layne High School, Prestonsburg High School, John M. Stumbo Elementary School and Wesley Christian School participated Saturday.
Hall said the sum needed for a school to buy a standard kit for archery, which costs about $3,000, is the same amount it would cost a school to outfit three football players.
A standard NASP kit includes 10 right-hand bows, two left-hand bows, 120 arrows, five targets, one arrow curtain, one repair kit and one bowrack, O’Connell said.
Ricky Music, Allen Central Middle School’s coach, said it can be hard to keep students in archery because many other sports are offered during the same season, like volleyball and basketball. “There’s just so much to compete with,” he said.
Earning a high enough score at the regional tournament allows students, individually or as part of a team, to qualify for the state tournament, which will be held in Louisville March 18-19.
The top five individuals of each gender in high school, middle school, sixth grade, fifth grade and fourth grade divisions advance to the state tournament, O’Connell said. Team scores are determined by the scores of the top four boys, top four girls and the next four highest scores.
Sherman Holliday, coach of the Adams Middle School and Prestonsburg High School teams, said students from both of his teams usually practice together, which provides the opportunity for older students to help younger students learn how to improve their skills.
He said he also reminds students that they should not be afraid of archery as a sport. “The targets aren’t shooting back at you.”