On Wednesday, 1,200 students and 64 teams from Oklahoma high schools, middle schools and elementary schools will convene at the State Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City to compete in the state's ninth archery championship tournament.
Archery in the Schools has become the most popular educational program the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has ever introduced.
It started in 2004 with 10 pilot schools. At the first state archery shoot in 2005, 180 students competed at the University of Central Oklahoma
Now, more than 400 schools and almost 50,000 students in Oklahoma are annually taking an eight-week archery session, taught by teachers trained in archery by the Wildlife Department.
“If we had relied upon agency personnel to teach this program like we did for years with aquatic education and the shotgun shooting program, we wouldn't be able to reach those numbers,” said Colin Berg, information education supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Participation has grown so much through the years that the Wildlife Department now holds six regional shoots as qualifiers to the state shoot.
Teams from schools in Mustang, Fairview, Healdton and Okarche will be making their first appearance in the state shoot on Wednesday.
Shooters on Wednesday will be competing for state individual and team archery titles in three divisions: fourth through sixth grade; seventh and eighth grade; and ninth through 12th grade.
The top teams and the top five individual shooters on Wednesday qualify for the national championships in Kentucky in May.
The success of archery allowed the Wildlife Department to introduce other educational programs in schools, such as hunter education, bow hunting and fishing.
This spring, the Wildlife Department will introduce a scholastic shooting sports program in several pilot schools.
The Wildlife Department already assists the FFA Sporting Clays program, but the new scholastic trap shooting program will be open to all students, not just those in FFA.
“We just want to open it up to everybody,” Berg said.