Jacqui Nischwitz

Jacqui Nischwitz of Oakville takes aim at a target during archery training for teachers at Lone Dell Elementary School last week.

Lori Harry’s reason for taking archery instruction training was simple but to the point.

“I have three grandkids and I want to teach them to use a bow and arrow,” said Harry of Imperial.

Harry, an administrator at Lone Dell Elementary School, was one of 14 educators who received the archery training at Lone Dell on Aug. 1.

The Missouri Department of Conservation provided the free instruction that included how to safely set up a range, use of the bow, shooting arrows and arrow recovery. Most of the people who took the class did not have any prior experience in archery. The state’s conservation agency has been holding basic archery instructor training since 2007.

All of the training the students receive at the annual class is approved by the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP). More than 700 schools nationwide, with archers in fourth grade through 12th grade, have been NASP certified. Teachers and school staff who complete the state’s archery training are certified to coach the sport.

“The number of schools that have been certified is as high as it’s ever been,” said Conrad Mallady, outdoor skills specialist at the conservation department. “There have been plateaus. Overall, it’s been steady.”

Students stepped up to the firing line six at a time as Mallady and other state conservation agents gave instructions with an emphasis on safety. For example, he blew a whistle five times, which indicates an emergency on the range. When it came time to let the arrows fly, Harry and others drew them from a quiver and were shown how to place the arrow on the string, draw, aim and shoot.

Josh Linville, who drove 4 1/2 hours from his home north of Kansas City and was one of the few with prior experience in archery, nearly had a dead-center bull’s eye on one of his shots.

After completing a round of firing, the students learned how to safely remove the arrows from the targets. Accidents can happen if someone is standing too close to the person removing the arrows.

“We show them how to set up a range appropriately,” Mallady said. “Every gym is different. Things that needed to be considered are pedestrian traffic; where do people come in and out of the building? It’s a challenge and a judgment call sometimes to set the gym up appropriately.

“When everything has been set up to NASP standards, we haven’t had any accidents or injuries. One of the things we tell the teachers is the only ball sport that’s safer than archery is ping pong.”

All of the students I talked to planned to teach what they had learned. Jason Jovi of Festus, about to begin his first year as a teacher at Grandview High School, said he wants to teach archery there. Jacqui Nischwitz from Oakville has three sons, whom she home-schools. She took the class to be qualified for equipment grants.

“It’s not as hard as I thought,” Nischwitz said about pulling the bow string back before releasing her arrows. It takes 20 pounds of pressure on the bow string for an adequate shot.

When a person completes basic archery instructor certification, his or her school is eligible for a $1,500 reimbursement grant through the conservation department and the Conservation Federation of Missouri. The grant covers about half of the cost of a full set of equipment, which includes 10 bows, a 30x8 arrow curtain that catches the arrows, five dozen arrows, five targets, an arrow rack or bow tree, and four quivers for carrying the arrows. NASP sanctions the Easton 18/20 arrow. It’s made of aluminum and 30 inches long, with a beveled point so it won’t harm gym floors.

Archery must be taught in a school before students can qualify for NASP tournaments. The sport has developed a strong following at a number of schools in Jefferson County. Chief among them is George Guffey Elementary in the Fox C-6 District. The Guffey Griffin archers have won the state elementary school team championship for 11 straight years – going back to the start of the competition in 2009.

The Hillsboro High team won the state title in 2018, with Donald Holupka and Madison Genge capturing individual championships. This year, Hillsboro’s junior high team finished first in the middle school division at the state tournament in March. More than 3,200 students in grades 4 through 12 from 170 schools participated in the event at the Branson Convention Center.

At the NASP Championships in Nashville on July 25-27, Peyton Willeford from Hillsboro placed second in the Middle School Boys Division with a score of 295 out of 300. Willeford finished seventh in the 3D competition.

The Jefferson R-7 Board of Education voted to add archery this spring. Mallady was at Jefferson High the day before teaching the class to evaluate how best to set up a range. He met with Jefferson athletic director Jason Dreyer, who said Mallady gave him a lot of good information. As a winter sport, archery is an ideal alternative for students who aren’t suited for or interested in the three other principal winter sports, basketball, hockey and wrestling.

“He told us about the equipment we need, grants that are available, training for athletes and how to get grants for archery through PE classes,” Dreyer said. “Our goal is to train outside in a big open field next to the high school. At some point we will move into a gym. With basketball practice, it’s hard to find the time for both sports to practice.”

Jefferson hasn’t bought any equipment or hired a coach yet. Dreyer said the school conducted an online survey for students from sixth through 12th grade and of the approximately 90 students who completed the survey, more than 30 expressed interest.