The Katniss Effect

Kayla Roddy, 13, of Ellicott City, came to Howard County Recreation & Parks' archery parent/child classes with her father, Jeff. (Photo by Nate Pesce / December 5, 2012)

Ask Dan Kratt what inspired his daughter, fifth-grader Susannah, to sign up for archery classes this fall, and he’ll respond with three words.

The Hunger Games.

When Susannah showed up for the first day of the introductory course offered by Howard County Recreation & Parks, she was not alone. About half of the 12 participants in her class were girls — and all had seen “The Hunger Games” at least once (one claims to have watched it eight times … so far).

“This is the fourth year we’ve offered archery, and it has grown steadily up until this year,” explains Matt Medicus, the adventure, nature and outdoors coordinator for Rec & Parks and one of its 13 certified archery instructors. “Since ‘The Hunger Games,’ we’ve seen an increased interest from girls that took our numbers way up.”

Submit a Letter to the Editor for the Laurel Leader, Columbia Flier and Howard County Times

Medicus and his fellow instructors say archery has benefited from increased exposure recently with kids wanting to emulate heroes like Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games” books and movie, Hawkeye from “The Avengers” and Merida from “Brave.” The Summer Olympic Games provided a boost as well.

It all came together in a perfect storm over the summer that culminated in an incredibly high demand for archery classes this fall.

“We originally planned for about 100 spots, but the demand was so high we doubled the courses to accommodate 100 more,” Medicus says. “Then we expanded to include 40 more. So we went from thinking we were going to serve 100 to actually enrolling 240.”

The phenomenon is not unique to Howard County. Bob Sales, president of the Maryland Archery Association, says every one of the group’s 18 chapters across the state has reported an increase in class enrollment.

“In many cases the number of students in beginner classes doubled and sometimes even tripled,” he says, adding that he isn’t surprised. “Archery is a great activity for any age. It teaches you how to be disciplined, and every week you can see your own improvement, so it’s not hard to see why picking up a bow can become very addictive.”

Teresa Iaconi, marketing and public relations director for USA Archery, agrees.

“We’ve seen a major increase in archery participation, from a 25 percent increase in individual membership to a huge boost in social media interaction. Competitions are larger than they have been in many years, and our Junior Olympic Archery Development clubs across the country are telling us that they are seeing record numbers of archers,” she says. “We attribute a lot of this to the continued presence of archery in pop culture, but also to our Olympic and Paralympic Teams’ medal-winning performances in London. Archery was the most-watched sport during NBC’s first week of Olympic coverage, and that created lots of new archery fans who are very excited about their new favorite sport.”

That’s right — archery even beat out basketball, averaging about 1.5 million viewers whenever it aired. That’s no surprise considering the  United States has the top-ranking athletes and teams in six of archery’s eight categories. In fact, Katniss actress Jennifer Lawrence’s archery coach for “The Hunger Games” was Team USA’s Khatuna Lorig, a five-time Olympian.

Shooting with the confidence and accuracy of Katniss Everdeen or an Olympian seems far away early one autumn Saturday on an open field in Rockburn Park. Three targets are set up 25 yards from a stand that holds about 15 fiberglass bows, and orange cones act as quivers for handfuls of arrows.

Instructors Michele Wright and Ed Palmer review the basics for a group of beginners, including the proper shooting stance. The body should be perpendicular to the target with feet shoulder-width apart. Make a hook with three fingers, and grab the bow string with the tips. Draw back to the anchor point (the corner of your smile) and release.

Six archers shoot, and the arrows of three thunk on the heavy targets. The rest fall short or sail over the target onto the grass.

“Our goal is to teach them the basics of archery and of safety so they can have fun and no one gets hurt,” Wright says. “And we try to do as much one-on-one as we can.”

Across the service behind the archers is a field with a rec league soccer game going on. Nearby is a youth football game.

“Not every kid is adept at team sports, and individual activities like archery are a good way to build confidence and concentration,” says Palmer.

Medicus agrees. “It teaches a lot of the same things — hand-eye coordination, focus, perseverance — but you don’t need a whole team to play. It’s all up to you and what you are capable of.”

Ellicott City resident Rachel Coates says that’s one reason she considered when signing up her sons Max, 13, and Ethan, 11.