They might not be hunting wild boar or starring in the next version of “The Hunger Games,” but the hundreds of young archers who planned to compete at the Carroll County Agriculture Center this weekend are just as passionate.
The National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) Archery Tournament was set to run this weekend, Friday through Sunday. After Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency due to the spreading coronavirus, plans for the competition changed.
“We are allowing students on the teams to submit a score from a previous live tournament held earlier in the season within Maryland,” said Lou Compton, NASP’s Maryland state coordinator. “This is how we give them a pathway to qualify for the nationals in Louisville in early May.”
Compton, who said they have a top priority of keeping their archers and volunteers safe and well, said awards are planned to be presented at the Maryland NASP Open at the Ag Center on May 22-23.
At this state competition for NASP, nearly 700 youth usually compete for an opportunity to be one of an estimated 15,000 finalists going to the national competition in Louisville, Kentucky, in May.
Compton said NASP was founded in Kentucky in 2002 and was adopted in Maryland in October 2005. It focuses on improving the academic performance of students in grades 4-12 through the use of their in-school archery program.
“Students learn basic archery skills, but also learn other skills important to being a better student overall,” Compton said, adding that student archers must learn to follow directions, adhere to important safety protocols, practice good sportsmanship, and take care of their equipment while learning the social skills necessary to work and compete as part of a team.
“There are also numerous opportunities for students to interact with students from across their state, the nation and possibly even from around the world,” he said.
The Maryland NASP held its first tournament in 2013 at Hagerstown Community College with 116 students from seven schools participating. Since then, it has grown by leaps and bounds, with 689 student archers from 35 Maryland schools registered for the weekend event, competing as a team and as individuals.
“Archers [competing as] individuals are awarded trophies within their division — elementary, middle and high school — and their gender,” Compton said. “Ten-thousand dollars in scholarship awards will also be awarded to the three top scoring girls and boys.”
In addition to archery skill awards, the Maryland NASP recognizes competitors who excelled in the classroom during the school year, with six $50 gift cards going to three girls and three boys randomly chosen from a list of the Academic Archers who entered a score in the tournament.
There are two ways to compete at this event, according to Tina Shupp, coach of the Fletchling Archery Team of North Carroll Community School.
“In the bulls-eye event, archers shoot at a 10-ring target,” she said. “In the 3-D event, they’ll aim for six foam animal targets. You can qualify for nationals in both.”
Nigel McKinney, 13, a member of the Fletchling Archery Team, said he realized his passion for archery after trying it at a summer camp several years ago. Shupp was the coach there, and she invited him to join the team.
“It is a relaxing sport,” Nigel said. “To be able to do it, you have to not think about it — just relax, and only focus on shooting. But it can also be stressful because you want to get a good score.”
Nigel has already been to two national competitions. This weekend, he’ll be shooting for his third.
“You have to be one of the top 10 in your age division at the state competition to go to the nationals,” he said.
Nigel’s mom, Havala McKinney, spoke of how far her son has come in just a few years.
“At his first competition, he was really little, and his arrows wouldn’t go into the target, so it didn’t go very well,” McKinney said. “When that happens, you have to raise your hand and you get another chance to shoot. For him, it took a long time, so he was the last one out there shooting. When we came back, Tina said, ‘Oh my gosh, I am so glad you came back. I thought I’d never see you again!’ ”
Although her son may have had a tough beginning, McKinney said he persevered.
“By the end of that year he was winning medals and he made it to nationals. Watching him learn, shoot and get in zone has been a fun ride.”
Fourteen-year-old Veronica Eurich first tried archery at an archery camp held at the Robert Moton Recreation Center in Westminster. She’d been in soccer and softball, but neither one was a good fit.
“For a long time, we were trying to find a sport for her,” said her mother, Gretchen Eurich. “Her brother had gotten a bow for Christmas, and she had said several times that she was interested in archery. I mentioned this to my sister, Kimberly, and she took to the internet and found the summer camp with Tina. I enrolled her and she found her thing.”
“I felt very powerful that first time,” Veronica said of shooting the bow. “I thought it was awesome to be able to do that, but I had to practice a lot to get better. I went to practice two times a week and to a lot of tournaments, about seven or eight a year. Then, I got to go to states last year."
For Veronica — who admits the “Hunger Games” books and movies, which feature a bow-wielding young female protagonist, got her interested in the sport — archery has become important in her life. She’s looking for colleges that have archery teams.
“When we all go to states as a team we really try to work hard because you can also get team awards, and this year, I am really trying hard to get into nationals,” she said. “I am excited to try to shoot for good scores.”
Shupp said she highly recommends this program.
“Almost anyone can learn to shoot a bow and arrow,” she said. “We’ve got big kids and little kids, athletes, scholars and artists. We’ve got kids of all shapes and sizes and abilities. Everyone uses the same type (Genesis) bows and arrows, no modifications except maybe the color, so the playing field is very level. It’s not about who has the best equipment, it’s about who can shoot with that equipment the best. It is a very well run organization with quality people. I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Compton said 39,600 total arrows will be shot at this weekend’s competition. If laid end to end, those arrows would extend 18.75 miles. That’s a lot of arrows from a lot of kids — all working hard to excel in a sport they love.
Learn more online at https://www.naspschools.org.
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Lois Szymanski covers Finksburg, Gamber, Pleasant Valley, Reese, Sandymount, Silver Run, Smallwood, Union Mills and Westminster. Reach her at 443-293-7811 or LoisSzymanski@hotmail.com