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Hunger Games and archery: A quick way to approach a trend story

Jennifer LawrenceCal RipkenFacebookChicago TribuneMichael Jordan

Journalists love a trend story, and a trend that ties in to a pop cultural phenomenon? All the better. In the case of the archery story on the front page of Thursday’s Chicago Tribune, an editor posed a hypothesis -- probably after seeing one of the ubiquitous “Hunger Games” movie posters on which Jennifer Lawrence squints down an arrow shaft -- if the “Hunger Games” is so popular, what might the spillover effect be on the popularity of archery? 

Turns out, “Hunger Games” has done more for archery (in the relative terms of a niche sport) even than it’s done for Hollywood. 

But the links to “Hunger Games” were not arrow-straight paths, I have to admit.

First of all, this “boom” in archery has been afoot for years, with better marketing efforts by the U.S. sanctioning body, USA Archery. That all predates the 2008 publication of the first installment of “Hunger Games.” And it may also have something to do with the power of the internet to connect people with a community of fans of -- well, anything.

But no one at Archery Bow Range in Humboldt Park (now here was a business named with search engines in mind) was unaware of the books and the film, nor of the fact that the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is a top-notch archer.

As I interviewed 12-year-old Isla Herrera, she said she’d been interested in archery since watching “Top Shot,” a basic cable show that features various projectile weapons, and that she’d seen an archery episode a year or so before she read “Hunger Games.”

So we can chalk up a companion phenomenon that plays into archery’s resurgence: The advent of basic cable, which, in order to provide 1,000 channels of 24-hour entertainment, must cater to even the most obscure of interests.

However -- clearly in support of my editor’s thesis -- Isla was literally thumbing through a copy of the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy between rounds on the firing range.

And, lest we forget, archery is really cool, without being intimidating.

I shot three arrows -— my first since Cub Scout camp -— and let me tell you, the “twang” of the bowstring and the “thwok” of the arrow hitting the target is at least as fun as hitting balls at the driving range (at least with a beginner’s bow). The instructors all were women in their 30s, and none of them had read Hunger Games before they started. They’d happened on the sport by chance, and they’d been reeled in by the visceral thrill of shooting arrows into targets.

And in the continuum of physical rigor, archery is probably less physically demanding than golf. You raise the bow, pull back the string and let go, and twang-thwok, the deed is done. My shooting wasn’t great, but I was far less aggravated than I get when I launch three straight worm-burners on the driving range.

Make no mistake: I have done some research on this over the past few days, and master archers all seem to be pretty athletic folks, and shooting with Olympic-level accuracy is surely as hard as doing anything at an Olympic level. I’m just saying that, when archery folks talk about one of the sport’s virtues being that one can participate without the prodigious physical gifts of say, Michael Jordan, and you can play longer than Cal Ripken, they’re onto something.

But lastly, there is what I called in my article The Katniss Factor. Katniss has many traits that make her an inspiring role model for young girls (and young boys, and adults of all genders, for that matter), and that makes her probably the most compelling draw to the sport for impressionable kids.

Archery fans -- and we will surely soon be a nation of toxophilites (fans of archery) -- should be glad her weapon of choice wasn’t the discus.

-- Andy Grimm

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