A pop-pop-pop filled the gymnasium as arrows with different-colored tails hit 12 targets at a faraway wall.
By TRACI ANGEL
Special to The Star
Archery coach Steve Lanier looked on with a whistle and iPad, used to record students’ shooting forms.
“Nothing but yellow is what we are looking for,” Lanier says, referring to the golden-colored center of the target. “I’m seeing that more and more.”
Longview Farm Elementary School in Lee’s Summit was the practice site for students from Summit Lakes Middle School and Longview Farm Elementary archery teams. The students are headed to nationals in Louisville to compete May 10-11, and every practice is helping to get them ready.
Fourteen-year-old state champion Shelby Winslow, in rolled-up jeans, sparkly loafers and her uniform top, had taken her position at the end of a long line of students.
During the season she had scouted out other competitors’ scores online and knew that hers were among the top. At the state competition in late March, she was the highest scoring girl in the middle-school division at state and won overall top scoring female shooter in all divisions.
Shelby has been competing for two years and joined the team because it provided a social outlet. She hopes that Lee's Summit West High will start a team so she can continue archery in high school.
Her nerves are calm as she anticipates competing on the national level. Yet, she keeps the contest in perspective.
“It’s really fun to shoot and have a good time,” she says.
Archery in Lee’s Summit has been a project of Lanier’s for several years.
He learned about archery teams for students nearly 10 years ago when an archery shop owner, who knew Lanier was in education, gave him a DVD of the student program.
“The more I learned, the more I became hooked on the program,” said Lanier, who teaches sixth grade at Longview Farm.
A competitive shooter himself, Lanier checked with the Missouri Department of Conservation about establishing a similar program. The department had a shooting program, but did not have the one assembled through the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP).
A few years later the state agency helped train teachers and those interested in becoming part of the national program. From there, Lanier started to drum up interest, train others to teach archery and assisted with the state tournaments.
About five years ago he went to school officials and coordinated an effort with physcial education teacher Tiffini Tomlin to give instructions in class, which evolved into the creation of the archery team.
The number of participating students locally and statewide has grown over the years. In 2009, just over 250 students competed in the state tournament. This year the number was nearly 1,500.
“This is good for every kid,” Lanier said. “They don’t have to be athletic, and I have some of my quietest girls who are some of my best shooters. It’s humbling and super-empowering. I have kids who can’t focus in class and they can (focus) on the shooting line.”
The bows are basic, but different from the ones a hunter uses. They are compound bows that do not have a draw stop, meaning that almost anyone can draw the bow to his or her draw length, Lanier said. The program is open to fourth- through 12th-grade students, and all use the same bows.
“The standardization is the bow and the variable is the expertise,” Lanier said.
Eric Edwards, Missouri Department of Conservation education outreach coordinator, has seen a huge increase in interest for the archery program.
“We started 2012 with 198 schools participating and (now) have 290 schools and 63,000-plus students participating this year in the program,” he said.
‘An equal opportunity sport’
Sixth-grader McKenna Rice’s dad, Jerry Rice, watched from the sidelines as his daughter practiced.
She has been shooting only six months and started right-handed before she discovered she was left-eye dominant and switched sides. Yet, she picked it up fast, winning third place in her elementary division at state.
McKenna started archery because she wanted a winter sport and it’s social, she said. She maintains her focus by tuning out others around her who might be laughing or talking.
Her strategy seemed to work. Her score during the practice session beat the older middle school students.
“I call it an equal opportunity sport,” said Jerry Rice. “You can have any size, any IQ.”