Even with humble estimates, Roy Grimes couldn’t have expected what the National Archery in the Schools Program has accomplished.
Twelve years after its inception, the program, which was started to increase outdoors awareness along with school participation through archery, is flourishing in both numbers and personal experiences. While the former is evident at the annual NASP National Tournament, the latter, thanks to a recent survey, is now becoming clear.
New archers make up 77 percent of the program’s participants, and 89 percent of those report they enjoy the program. And 65 percent of the students who have participated in the program said they plan to continue shooting.
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On May 14, Grimes stood outside the massive Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville amazed as he overlooked a sea of cars.
"You'd think it was any large event, like a home and garden or boat show,” the NASP founder and president said, “but instead it was a bunch of people shooting bows and arrows.”
Those people ranged from fourth-graders to high school seniors, who represented 665 schools from 39 states. There were 10,443 student archers, a Guinness World Record, breaking NASP’s record from the previous year by more than 1,000.
Nearly $80,000 was given out in scholarships to the winners. The top male scholarships were decided in a tense tiebreaker. Contestants Dustin Johnson and Sam White each had to shoot with a crowd of 3,000 watching. One slight aiming error proved to be a $10,000 difference.
Shooting first, Johnson applied pressure instead of feeling it, threading the arrow in the middle of the target from 15 meters. White couldn't mimic the shot, but he later held his $10,000 scholarship check proudly next to Dustin and his $20,000 prize.
This was the first year a 3-D challenge was offered. (Courtesy NASP)
The 2014 National Tournament also featured a new adaptation: 3-D shooting. Foam animals, which included turkey, bear, antelope and sheep, were placed at different distances as targets. This came out of necessity. One of the foundational goals of NASP is to foster hunting education, and some reasoned that children involved wouldn't necessarily make the transition from shooting bulls-eyes to obtaining a hunting license and hunting live animals. Thus, more realistic targets were added.
It’s been a long, fast road since 2002, Grimes decided that a change was vital to the health of the outdoors industry in Kentucky. While serving as the Deputy Commissioner for Kentucky's Fish and Wildlife Resources, Grimes noticed that hunting licenses were in decline.
“For 15 years, we lost 17 license buyers a day,” he said.
By the time Grimes' children had children of their own, outdoorsman could be few in number. And the values taught by the rugged outdoors could be nonexistent.
“We were losing a generation," Grimes said. “My dad taught me and my brothers to shoot. That's not happening in today's society. When we began the NASP, kids weren't replacing hunters that were retiring. So we created a model, to teach the skill to a target audience, and then let kids decide what to do with it."
Grimes’ idea was to create an in-school archery program, with a goal to foster the growth of hunting along with an awareness of the outdoors.
“The program was born out of desire to stem the decline in shooting sports, and the initial goal was to be in 120 schools by 3 years,” said Grimes. “We surpassed that mark at 13 months.”
The program then partnered with neighboring states, and the 501-3c non-profit organization Kentucky Archery in the Schools Program was renamed NASP. Today, the program exists in 47 states and 18 other countries.
According to Grimes, much of the NASP's success hinges on the 7,000 certified teachers that intertwine archery into their curriculum. From the educator’s perspective, the goal of archery is to improve student motivation, behavior and focus. The students they teach later compete in the regional and state tournaments, with each team consisting of 12-24 participants, with at least 4 students of each gender. The entire team can shoot, with only the top 5 scores counting.
Each team member uses original 20-pound Genesis bows, along with Easton 1820 arrows. Although the equipment is sold to the schools from the NASP, personal bows can be used from an authorized retailer.
The program chalks its wide success, which encapsulates everything from equipment to the help of volunteers, to an overarching value of consistency.
“We keep it simple and resist changing the program to suit others,” Grimes said. “I've been given a $50,000 check from an organization and asked if we would change one aspect. At the time, that was a third of the budget. But I had to give it back, because we simply couldn’t afford to comprise the program.”
As volunteers tore down the 2014 National Tournament signs at the conclusion of the event, next year was already being discussed. Plans are under way to accommodate what Grimes expects to be another record – 12,000 student archers. The talk also turned to who qualified to compete in the NASP World Tournament, to be held July 11-13 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wis.
Grimes was simply content and proud of the present state of the NASP. He was well aware that 37 percent of the archers surveyed said they wanted to start an archery club. Considering it began 12 years ago so Grimes’ grandchildren wouldn’t be among a dying breed of outdoorsman, the program continues to exceed his expectations.
“I picked up my 10-year old grandson from school recently,” Grimes said, “and he started telling me that he made the school's archery team. That's pretty cool.”