CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s the weekend which hundreds of West Virginia school children have been steadily preparing for.  This weekend the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources will host the 12th annual Archery in Schools state tournament at the Charleston Civic Center.

“We’ve got about 527 archers and 55 different schools involved,” said Director Art Shomo. “We’re kind of constrained by size. Charleston Civic Center is the largest venue we can find and at any time 80 students are going to be shooting at 40 targets stretched from one end of the coliseum to the other.”

The archers are made up of male and female students and have been involved in the program through their physical education classes.  The DNR instituted the Archery in the Schools program as a way to introduce youngsters to another form of recreation which can stick with them for their entire life.  The West Virginia program is part of a national organization and top shooters in Saturday’s event will advance to the National Archery in Schools Tournament in Louisville, Kentucky in May.   West Virginia has historically had a strong showing in the national event.

The breakdown for this weekend’s events will be 259 females and 268 males.  They come from the high school, middle school, and elementary school ranks.  Whether a school is involved depends greatly on the level of commitment of a coach.

“In some counties, like Upshur County, every school is involved, but in other counties there aren’t as many,” said Shomo. “Almost all of them have an after school club with practices, some more than others.  Some of them do a lot of practice after school just like a regular sport.  It especially ramps up after January getting ready for the state tournament.”

The commitment is up to the instructor who has to go through a National Certification program from the Archery in Schools program.  The instructor is usually a gym teacher and the curriculum is developed to be a classroom learning activity.  The program teaches the basics of archery.  Students shoot instinctively with the same bow, which comes with no site pins or any other aids for improvement of accuracy.  The idea is to create an interest in archery and hope it is sustained for the rest of the student’s life.   Although hunting is not part of the curriculum ,the Division of Natural resources obviously hopes the enjoyment of archery will lead more students to buy a hunting license and take up bow hunting.

“I don’t think we’ve ever tried to track that, but certainly we hope some of them see it as a skill and transfer that over to bow hunting.” Shomo said. “Archery is a sport that doesn’t require a great deal of strength of physical ability. It’s basically depending on being good at concentration and focus.”

Those reasons alone are the great equalizer and why it’s not uncommon to see a 55 pound 5th grade girl out shoot a 240 pound high school boy in the competition.

The event is open to the public at the Charleston Civic Center Saturday starting at 9 a.m.   The first shooters will be from the elementary school teams, followed by middle school, and then the high school age students.  The awards ceremony starts at 4 p.m.  Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for ages 6-17, and under six are admitted free.

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