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June 23, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Anna Pendergrass, dressed in a hot pink T-shirt and shorts, launches arrows from her matching pink bow. Happily, she yells out to her father, Joe, when they hit the target in close succession. Anna, 9, caught the bow bug at age 4.
Thanks to a recent change in the physical education program in Boone County schools, Anna won’t be alone in youth archery. In May, the Missouri National Archery in the Schools Program announced a $21,000 plan to bring bows and arrows to seven different schools. Local schools Hickman High School, Rock Bridge High School and Oakland Junior High are participating.
Archery involves a lot of standing and walking but few high-intensity moves. It’s a solo sport, and accuracy takes precedence over extreme adrenaline levels. In an athletic sense, archery might be most comparable to golf.
At one of the more common shooting events, archers take aim at 14 to 30 3-D foam animals. Points are given to arrows that land through various rings, which range from five to 12 points. Competitions not only test accuracy but also the archer’s consistency. Even on the same foam animal, the placement of the target and the environment creates a different challenge with each shot. As local 4-H archery coach Jim Sappington teaches, it’s not simply about hitting the target but also repeating the placement of the shot.
Wannabe archers who lack equipment need not worry because 4-H, a youth development education program, is eager for novel students. It will provide bows and arrows and will offer assistance to those new to the sport.
The Columbia Area Archers is another organization happy to teach the sport. The club, which was formed in 1991, boasts about 40 members, who range in age from 5 to mid-70s. The group consists of both hunters and recreational shooters, though hunters make up the majority. Many families, such as the Pendergrasses, join the club in order to shoot together.
Sappington and his wife, Ragan, found their own niche with the Columbia Area Archers. Jim, now 45, first held a bow at the age of 8, and Ragan, 44, picked hers up at the age of 22. Both are drawn in by the concentration the sport requires. “When you’re on the range, you’re staying so focused that, for me, it relieves stress out of a busy work day,” Ragan says.
Archery is an accessible sport. Joe has seen a man without an arm use a clip in his teeth to draw the string back and accurately fire.
Although archery can be a competitive sport, many of the Columbia Area Archers encourage each other by applauding good shots and giving out advice on how to improve. “You see true sportsmanship,” Ragan says.
To its members, the warmth of the archery community is the most appealing part. The circle isn’t restricted to only locals either. Archers travel from all over the state for competitions. “It’s like a big family,” 4-H coach Jeff Davis says. Davis and Jim coach part of the local youth team. Both say their kids have kept in contact with some of their long-distance competitors after meeting.
“It is a very social sport,” Ragan says. “It strengthens a lot of families. It’s a community all its own.”