Frankford Elementary Archery Program is ‘a game changer for kids’

By Jeffrey Kanode, RealWV

Twenty fourth and fifth-grade children stood with their feet carefully positioned on the shooting line on the gym floor, a bow in their hands, an arrow positioned in each bow, those hands holding steady while those young eyes focused steely on the target so many feet ahead.

The coaches didn’t need to offer any verbal instructions. A whistle guided the students through each step: one whistle means shoot, five whistles means stop. The students talked to each other rarely, except to compare scores after each round when each student strided up to the target to score her or himself. The practice sessions of the newborn Frankford Elementary Archery Team runs just like the tournaments these students find themselves competing in and being seasoned by: competition characterized by silence, discipline, focus.

But the kids are having fun. 

You can see it in their eyes and in the animation characterizing their brief between-shooting banter. 

(L-R) Jim Anderson, Susan Anderson, and Shawn Woods are dedicated to building the Frankford Archery Team.

Susan Anderson, the P.E. teacher at Frankford Elementary School and head archery coach, credits Alderson Elementary School and coaches Jason Ward and Matt Holiday with encouraging other Greenbrier County Schools to bring the opportunity of archery to their students. “If not for them, I wouldn’t have gotten involved. They did the training at Chief Logan State Park, came back, and let us see their program. From the beginning, Jason and Matt encouraged us to start our own program,” she said.

The National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP, not to be confused with a school psychology program bearing the same acronym) provides the training and framework for school administrators, coaches, parents and community sponsors to create an archery program for their school. The organization’s website publicizes tournaments, lists school rankings, and provides a place for schools and families to buy all those needed supplies for an archery program.  

Bows, arrows, quivers and targets aren’t inexpensive items, hence the need for community support.  Anderson and the other coaches–her husband Jim, and Shawn Woods—work hard not only teaching the students, but seeking community partners and sponsors for the program. So far, the community of Frankford has been incredibly supportive, she noted.

Susan Anderson passionately believes in the value and in the positive power of archery in the schools.  “It’s a game changer for kids,” she reflected as her gaze moved across the gym to all her archers. “Not all kids can play basketball or football.  Archery can take these students, teach them how to shoot, and give them a hobby, a sport that they can enjoy for the rest of their lives.”

According to the freshly trained archery coach, archery teaches the students how to focus their minds and bodies, how to control and carry themselves, and gives birth to new self-confidence. “These kids do not have to be at school, after school like this, but they want to be,” Anderson exclaimed. “They are passionate about it too—they want to help us set up the equipment, and they want to stick around for tear-down. They are buying in, in a major way. We have a student or two who had serious absence issues last year, and this year, with archery, the kids are here. They want to be here.  It’s such a nice program.”

In addition to the mental and physical skills archery instills in the students, the program also incorporates other disciplines, other talents, including art.  The coach pointed to the students’ bows: several of them were adorned with brightly colored bowstrings, flanked by grips and risers reflecting various colors of the rainbow, and housed by quivers adorned with the artistic touch unique to elementary-aged archers.

Every fourth grader at Frankford Elementary receives six weeks of archery instruction as part of PE class.  After they have received that initial in-class training, each fourth and fifth grade student may join the Frankford Archery Team. The Pirates will competing in tournaments across West Virginia this month, including Saturday, February 3 at Greystone Baptist in Lewisburg, (hosted by Alderson Elementary), Saturday, February 10 at Summers County High in Hinton, a road trip north to the Charleston Coliseum on Saturday, February 17, and back in their home area, to Mountain View Elementary in Union, on Saturday, February 24.  The team hopes to be eligible to compete in the WVDNR Archery in the Schools State Tournament in Charleston, on Saturday, March 30. 

“We’re a brand new program, started just this fall, but these kids are doing great,” Susan Anderson contemplated. “Maybe we’ll get to the states.”

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