Success of high school archery program continues to grow

OKLAHOMA CITY — Much has been written about the National Archery in the Schools Program in Oklahoma the past decade, but more proof of its success comes from the recent Red River Shoot Out in Sherman, Texas.

Two Oklahoma schools — Houchin Elementary in Moore and Chandler High School — won the competition that featured some of the best archery coed teams from schools in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

“Most of the state championship teams from Louisiana and Texas were there,” Ty Rhoades, Chandler’s archery coach, told The Oklahoman.

The annual tournament, sponsored by St. Mary’s School in Sherman, Texas, as a fundraiser, attracted more than 600 shooters.

“It’s pretty big bragging rights,” said Eddie Fowlkes, a physical education instructor and the archery coach at Houchin Elementary, which also is two-time defending Oklahoma champions in the elementary division.

Chandler finished second at the state championships this year to Chickasha, another Oklahoma school where archery has been embraced.

The National Archery in the Schools Program was launched in 21 Kentucky middle schools in 2002. Fearing that outdoor skills were being lost, Kentucky’s Fish and Wildlife Services teamed with Matthews Archery and the Kentucky Department of Education to create an archery curriculum.

Oklahoma got on board in 2005 with a pilot program in seven schools. Today, 546 Oklahoma schools are teaching archery through the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation with more than 50,000 boys and girls participating.

Houchin Elementary in Moore and Chandler Public Schools were two of the earliest schools in Oklahoma to embrace the program. Fowlkes and Rhoades each started the archery programs at their respective schools a decade ago.

“It really fits the culture of the school here and the kids,” said Rhoades, who also teaches an outdoors skills class in the school. “Most of the people do not live in town, and a lot of (kids) have access through grandparents or somewhere where they can go hunt and fish.”

For wildlife agencies, teaching archery in schools to kids is a way to help preserve the future of the outdoor life, as the national trend shows fewer and fewer people are participating in outdoor activities such as fishing and hunting.

Archery is usually taught as part of physical education classes in most of the participating schools. An instructor interested in teaching archery must attend a two-day training workshop by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation which includes learning how to set up and operate a safe archery range.

The Wildlife Department provides an initial grant to help schools buy equipment, but then the schools have fundraisers to pay for travel and ongoing costs. No public funds are used.

Teachers involved with Archery in the Schools are constantly singing its praises. Participating in archery improves the self-esteem of students, improves attendance and makes them better students.

“A lot of kids I get are not involved in other kinds of sports,” Rhoades said.

Fowlkes said his archery students will spend an hour and a half before and after school practicing, but they can’t participate unless they reach academic goals.

“They pour their hearts into it,” Fowlkes said. “Parents buy them a bow so they can practice at home.”

The Wildlife Department also offers programs to teach fishing, bowhunting and hunter education in schools.

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