DCPS Hits Bull’s-eye with New Archery Program

All over the District of Columbia, including right here on the Hill, kids have been shooting bows and arrows right under our noses for a couple years now. Nothing to do with “The Hunger Games,” this is the result of an expansion of the DCPS archery program to include 34 schools across all grade bands this year, achieved with the help of a Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) Grant from the Department of Education.

“It’s a little weird,” said Virgin Islands native Sakina Scott as she watched her daughter, 13, shoot for Capitol Hill Montessori, the only Capitol Hill team to take part in the first-ever DCPS Archery Tournament, held at the H.D. Woodson High School gym in March. “But I actually am happy that these things are offered to kids, especially adolescents at her age, just to kind of keep them out of trouble, keep them focused, and give them the opportunity to explore.”

More than 100 DCPS students participated in the tournament and competed for spots in the National Archery in the Schools Program National Tournament in Louisville, Kentucky, May 7-9. The group of archers, parents, and coaches in attendance was as diverse a crowd as can be seen at any event in DC, and the judges were so earnest that their indefatigable strictness was willingly heeded by archers and spectators alike. In an atmosphere saturated by hushed attentiveness punctuated by the shuffling of feet, clacking of arrows, and thump of arrows hitting their targets, the archers performed the extensive and rule-laden ritual of preparing, shooting, and retrieving their arrows.

Fifty individual archers – including four from Capitol Hill Montessori – qualified for the national tournament; 39 are expected to attend. DCPS will attempt to cover the $30 registration fee for each student, as well as travel expenses for those who have expressed a need.

Competition for national spots aside, DCPS hopes the Department of Education grant funds spent on archery equipment and teacher training will pay off in improved focus and determination for its students and promote lifelong fitness. 

Middle-school father Gerry Holmes has always been impressed with other DCPS non-traditional athletic offerings, which include bowling and fencing, but finds that archery seems to have very specific benefits for his son. 

“He just enjoys being in the group, and just using the bows. I think it’s great to see him exercise an individual sport like this, where he can really use his ability to concentrate and focus, essentially on his own terms.”

The kids don’t mention Katniss Everdeen as often as parents might fear, but Alice Deal Middle School archery coach Neal Downing definitely thinks the bows and arrows have something to do with why his students took to the sport so quickly.

“You get to shoot stuff,” he shrugged. “If you look at them, they all enjoy shooting. I mean, how often do kids get to shoot stuff and not get in trouble for it?”

As an athletic director, P.E. teacher, and baseball, basketball, bowling, and football coach, Downing also appreciates archery as a great physical activity with broad appeal.

“This is a great segue to a sport for kids who don’t have to run or jump. You don’t have to be the fastest, you don’t have to be the tallest, and you can still excel at archery. It gives them a great venue to use their skills; skills other than athletic skills.”

Downing was visibly proud of his archers, whom he learned to coach through the early professional development stage of the archery program expansion.

“First thing, you just coach safety. It’s all about safety,” Downing explained. “Then you teach them the proper stance, the proper mechanics, then it’s up to them to try to get as close to the target as they can.”

In addition to being an athletic activity that everyone can enjoy, archery is also great mental activity for anyone who wants to develop improved concentration skills applicable in other sports, school, or life in general.

After only one week in the sport and still on the fence about her future as an archer, Xabriah Young-Glenn, a sophomore hurdler on the Wilson track team, had already noticed that not only did archery help her improve her focus during all the tumult of a hurdle race, but that, “It’s a sport for everybody, and even if you don’t do as well, you still do well.”

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