Feature Article - July/August 2006
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Beyond the Campfire

Summer camp sports head mainstream

By Margaret Ahrweiler

Archery also is appealing for its equalizing abilities, since both boys and girls—or men and women—can compete equally. This makes it especially alluring to middle-school programs, Engh notes, with its ability to bridge the gap in the emerging battle between the sexes.

What's more, disabled patrons often can compete on equal footing as well. It doesn't take much to add archery to rec programs for disabled patrons, particularly wheelchair-bound users. Anyone with the upper-body strength and mobility do draw back a bow can perform archery—and excel—while seated.

"Archery enables physically challenged people to participate side by side with able-bodied people," Engh explains, adding that this is another reason why schools have jumped onto the archery bandwagon, along with the fact that it's a lifelong sport.

For those concerned about the hazards of putting bows and arrows into the hands of wayward children (or adults for that matter), Engh reassures them that archery regularly gets ranked among the safest sports by organizations that track such numbers. Safety essentials, ranging from how to handle a bow to admonitions against shooting an arrow straight into the air, are built into classes to make sure it remains at the front of users' minds.

Archery also gained more visibility from the recent movie, The Weather Man, starring Nicholas Cage, who's melancholy character promotes archery as a way to bring his daughter out of her shell but ends up embracing it himself. (For those whose only exposure to the movie was a trailer showing Cage with a bow slung over his shoulder along the frigid lakefront, the Chicago Park District does, in fact, maintain an archery range at Belmont Harbor in its vast Lincoln Park hugging the Lake Michigan shore.)

The Oldest Sport?

Many sports can claim a civilizing influence on society, but few can boast of being as essential to civilization's development as archery can. Archery has been around since prehistoric times, providing early men a boost by allowing them to hunt from a distance. The Egyptians were the first to use bow and arrow extensively by around 5000 B.C.

Prowess with a bow could make or break armies, with advancements in archery technology essential to many conquering cultures. Archery has captured hearts in myth and legend centuries before The Lord of the Rings—think William Tell and Robin Hood.

Changes in weaponry fueled by gunpowder inevitably shifted archery to sport status, albeit with interesting historical footnotes: The National Archery Association grew out of post-Civil War ban on Confederate soldiers owning firearms. Two Florida brothers learned to hunt with bow and arrow instead and became founding members of the NAA in 1879.

Archery programs are going strong at places like the Naperville, Ill., Park District, a western suburb of Chicago. Director of Recreation Brad Wilson reports that close to 1,200 people have participated in archery classes in the last three years. The district would have hosted more had they not been forced to reduce the number of classes due to limited instructor availability.

Making more instructors more available for programming is one of the NADA's primary goals, Engh notes. The group's recently introduced Go! Archery program, which targets park and rec pros, aims to do just that. Created by NADA's Lloyd Brown—an Olympic coach who taught Cage archery for his Weather role—Go! Archery teaches potential instructors how to teach a beginning-level archery class.

Start-up costs include bows, arrows, targets and arrow curtains, which keep strays from going beyond the range. Engh says rec programs can purchase inexpensive, beginner bows for as little as $50. For other options, some instructors may bring their own equipment, or a program can rent an archery range in a box, with a dozen bows and accompanying arrows, targets and arm guards, from the archery association for $125 a week or $250 a month.

As a lifelong, "all ages" sport, archery classes can attract a variety of patrons. Naperville, for one, has found parent and child archery classes to be popular. And while Naperville has yet to establish a permanent archery range, other park districts are finding it helps grow the sport if the land is available. The Fort Collins, Colo., Department of Parks and Recreation has provided archers with a dedicated range since 1984, says Bob Loeven, Fort Collins' manager of parks and cemeteries. In a mutually beneficial arrangement, the Fort Collins Archery Association provides all the labor for the range's upkeep, although the parks department keeps up the landscaping, including regular rough mowing. The range is popular with a wide range of users, Loeven says, including Special Olympics and Senior Olympics groups, Boy and Girl Scouts, recreation camps, and, of course, the archery association, which holds weekend tournaments there.