From the Missouri Department of Conservation
-- Who would have guessed that 60,000-year-old technology could pry kids’ hands off video game controllers and improve their grades?
Perhaps no one, but Kevin Lohraff at least had a clue.
Lohraff is the Missouri Department of Conservation’s education outreach coordinator. When he took on the job of coordinating the Missouri National Archery in the Schools Program (MoNASP), he heard stories of how the program changed children’s lives and grew so fast it took on a life of its own.
Last year – two years after the first Missouri school launched the in-school archery program – Lohraff watched in amazement as registration for the first MoNASP tournament turned into a groundswell that flooded the activity center at Linn State Technical College.
Two-hundred seventy-four youths in grades four through 12 took part in that event. This year’s tournament on Feb. 13 drew 639 shooters from 31 schools and nearly forced MoNASP officials to call finalists back for a second day to finish.
Lohraff estimates that 16,000 kids participated in MoNASP programs at 102 schools in 2009. That is up from approximately 8,000 last year. He says the program’s phenomenal growth is extremely gratifying, but keeping up with that growth is a challenge.
“We are going to have to completely rethink to see how we run next year’s tournament,” he said.
While the pace of growth has taken almost everyone by surprise, Lohraff says the reasons for MoNASP’s popularity are easy to understand. He refers to it as “The Wow Effect.”
The first “wow” moment usually involves adults, who witness a transformation in youngsters they know well.
“Parents and teachers often tell me that the kids they know at school and at home act differently when they shoot archery,” said Lohraff. “They talk about a new energy—a type of awakening—when their kid picks up the bow. They are surprised by the amount of concentration and focus. They sometimes say ‘a light went on with my daughter’ or ‘I have never seen my son so interested in anything like this before.’ I sometimes reply with a ‘Wow!’ and I mean it.”
Lohraff says he gets a charge out of watching people’s faces when they walk in the door at the state tournament. Most pause. Some actually stop and just stare. The first word out of their mouth is usually, “Wow!”
“It’s a pretty impressive sight to see 70 kids on the shooting line at one time—quiet, determined, and absolutely focused,” says Lohraff. “You could probably hear a pin drop if it weren’t for the dull roar of 70 arrows thumping into targets stretched out across three full-size gyms.”
Among the impressed spectators at this year’s event were Conservation Commissioners Chip McGeehan and Don Johnson, Conservation Department Director Bob Ziehmer and Deputy Director Tim Ripperger. Leaders of other organizations that support the tournament also were on hand. These included Conservation Federation of Missouri Executive Director Dave Murphy, United Bowhunters of Missouri President Tom Dickerson and Jeff Friedmann, past-President of Missouri Bowhunter’s Association.
Lohraff said the list of people who have contributed to MoNASP’s success so far is long. “I’m glad that hundreds of teachers, school administrators, MDC staff and partners, parents and volunteers have invested in this program. And I’m especially glad that some of these kids that have picked up a bow today will continue to pick up bows the rest of their lives.”
School administrators, teachers or parents who would like to see MoNASP in their schools can learn about the program’s benefits and help that is available to start programs by contacting Lohraff at Kevin.Lohraff@mdc.mo.gov or calling (573) 751-4115.
“Put a bow in a kid’s hands and help them shoot,” said Lohraff. “You might see a little light go on and you might see a kid change before your eyes. You might just say, ‘Wow.’” –By Jim Low