Approximately 1,400 students from 84 schools in the state will be competing Wednesday in Oklahoma City in the state championships for Archery in the Schools.
There are now 401 schools in Oklahoma that are teaching archery to elementary, middle and high school students through the national program administered by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
It’s a number that has climbed each year since the agency started the program in 10 pilot schools a decade ago.
“I have got probably 40 or 50 people on our waiting list now for our workshops, people interested in being instructors wanting to bring it to their school,” said Jay Rouck, coordinator of Archery in the Schools and Explore Bowhunting for the Wildlife Department.
Three years ago the Wildlife Department added regional tournaments as qualifiers to the state shoot to make the increasing number of participants more manageable. Next year, the agency will add another round of archery playoffs because of the phenomenal growth.
“Somebody calls me every day asking about the program and how to get it in their school,” Rouk said.
In most cases, the archery classes are taught by a physical education or agriculture instructor in schools. The Wildlife Department awards 50 grants each years to new schools in the program to help pay for the costs of equipment, but even schools that don’t receive grants are electing to participate, raising money on their own to defray the costs.
The Wildlife Department provides the training to school teachers on how to set up the program and a safe archery range.
Many of them are teachers who are interested in archery, such as Rouk, who was a chemistry and biology teacher at Beggs High School before joining the Wildlife Department last year.
Also a longtime employee of Pat’s Archery in Okmulgee, Rouk was certified by the Wildlife Department in 2005 as an archery instructor for Beggs High School and has seen the popularity of the sport explode.
“It’s mostly due to the fact that archery is just fun and it appeals to a wide variety of people,” he said.
Rouk has worked at the Okmulgee archery shop for 25 years, selling and repairing bows. Archery in the Schools has been good for the archery business, he said, as more parents are buying bows for their children.
Kids who are being introduced to archery through the school are transitioning into shooters as adults, either competing in Olympic target archery or bow hunting, he said. Archery can be a lifelong sport.
“You don’t have to be a particularly good athlete to do it,” Rouk said. “It’s probably more of a mental sport.”
The first flight in the Archery in the Schools state championships will begin at 9 a.m. in the Travel and Transportation Building at State Fair Park. Competition will last throughout the day.
Team and individual championships will be awarded in elementary, middle and high school divisions. The winners also will qualify for nationals.