Breaking down social barriers and eliminating records is nothing new to the National Archery in the Schools Program. The non-profit organization broke the Guinness book of World Records by holding the largest archery tournament on May 12 with 7,804 participants at the 2012 NASP Nationals in Louisville, Ky.
"I walked outside of the tournament and saw acres of parked cars; It was shocking that something this large started with 12 people simply sitting around a table," said Roy Grimes, President of NASP. "And it made the tournament that much more special for the kids to be a part of a world record."
Check out images from the NASP Nationals:
The largest archery range was constructed for the event, with 1,350 feet of shooting line, 270 lanes and room for 540 archers during each of the tournament’s 1 hour rounds. Sponsors such as Bass Pro Shops, Matthews Archery and the National Field Archery Association provided $50,000 in scholarship money, highlighted by Tyler Finely from Zanesville, Ohio, receiving $10,000 for finishing first.
The organization, spearheaded by Grimes, began in 2002 with a goal to introduce archery into school's physical education programs for children in 4th to 12th grade.
"We had been losing 2 percent of our hunting license buyers per year for 15 years," said Grimes, at the time was a deputy to Thomas Bennett, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
Grimes believed that if a shooting sport was made popular through children, hunting licenses would therefore increase. Archery fit the bill, and Grimes partnered with the Kentucky Department of Education to launch the organization.
"We were planning to make it a high school sport," Grimes said, "but Gene Wilhoit, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education, suggested making it a physical education class so all students could participate during the school day, instead of it strictly being an after school activity.”
Grimes saw the genius in Wilhiot's strategy and thought that NASP could have a positive effect on the children, and the program grew quickly.NASP's goal of reaching 120 schools in five years was met much earlier than expected - in a mere 13 months.
Several neighboring states showed interest, and the organization changed its name from Kentucky Archery in Schools Program to the National Archery in Schools Program.
The organization currently has 47 states in the program, with only Rhode Island, Vermont, and Delaware still on the target. Their reach extends across the world to Canada, New Zealand, Australia and three countries in Africa.
The organization, which grew from 21 schools to 10,373 schools, "helps with attendance and discipline," according to Grimes. "Parents are wanting their children to benefit from it because it gives them the opportunity to make new friends."
Grimes said he believes the organization will actually accelerate in the next decade, due to archery being considered as an official high school sport.
It's statically difficult to attribute whether the NASP has directly increased license sales, but Grimes has high hopes and at least one definitive statistic..
"A high percentage of participants in NASP cross over into other sports, including fishing and hunting, which can lead to license purchases," he said. "Minnesota reported bow hunting licenses were up 25 percent since starting NASP."
Archery, considered by many to be a gateway to hunting and other outdoor sports, is receiving financial dividends and awareness from the public. Grimes explained that even if the children in NASP don't buy a hunting license but do purchase a bow, some tax benefits go from the manufacturer to state wildlife agencies.
In terms of contributing to the cross over, Grimes said "we teach the skill, but we let the people decide if they want to cross over into other areas of shooting."
Grimes, who has been practicing archery as a lifetime hobby, is confident in his organization’s impact.
"I firmly believe we're making better kids as they take up archery," he said.
For more information, visit archeryintheschools.org