Though archery has found its way as a state-sanctioned sport at the high school level for the first time this year, several local elementary schools have been practicing and entering competitions for a while now. At Leatherwood Elementary, Principal Kenny Roark said that his students have actually been competing for several years.
Roark, who is an avid outdoorsman, said he wanted to share his love of the outdoors with his students, so when archery began to be introduced into schools as a sport, he was one of the first to jump on board 10 years ago.
“Our school has been in it longer than any in the county,” said Roark. “Longer than anybody in the region probably.”
Archery is a fast-growing sport that now has several schools in each of the 14 regions competing at the elementary level. Leatherwood has had as many as 38 students on their archery team ranging from fourth to eighth grade.
The archery program in Kentucky's elementary schools was started as a collaboration.
“In the beginning it was a partnership with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, Kentucky NASP, which stands for National Archery in the Schools Program,” said Roark. “They got the program started.”
In the last 10 years the program has grown to include hundreds of students and multiple tournaments. His students have even gotten the chance to compete at the state level in Louisville several times.
Roark said that while growth in the sport is a good thing, it also makes winning the region and going to state more difficult.
“There weren’t a lot of competitors in the beginning and we did well,” said Roark. “It is getting hard, the competition, because there are so many schools. Last year we were fourth in the region.”
When the schools do earn a chance to compete at the state tournament they have to pay for the trip themselves. They fundraise for the cost of the fuel for the bus, hotel rooms and all the other amenities of the trip, which Roark said is difficult. It is because of how difficult travel and fundraising is that they are not able to go to more tournaments.
In the past there have been a few tournaments within the region other than the regional tournament, though not as many as in some other areas. Roark said they have not been able to compete much outside of the region.
Despite having to fundraise for trips and tournaments, Roark said that they have been able to get some help from Operation UNITE. The anti-drug agency is often looking for constructive ways to get students involved in activities to keep them from getting involved in drugs. In doing so, they have started donating to archery programs in schools.
“UNITE in our area is helping to fund,” said Roark. “They give you like $1,500 a school to order the supplies.”
Along with this start-up money, Roark said that anytime they have needed something they have been able to call UNITE and get help.
While donating to archery programs may not seem like a good way to keep students off of drugs, Roark said that archery has engaged a set of students that were not previously involved in school sports.
“Kids that didn’t play basketball or soccer, they will come out and do archery,” said Roark.
They now offer archery in gym class to teach students the skills and then let them determine if they want to join the team. The sport comes at no expense, other than fundraising for trips, to the students. The school provides the equipment.
While Perry County Central High School did not opt to join other high schools in the state in having a high school archery program, Roark said that he is hopeful that they will in the future. Currently, a few schools in the Perry County School District have archery or have been trained to teach archery.
“We do, Willard does, A.B. (Combs) has in the past, Dennis Wooton has been trained, R.W. (Combs) has been trained, they will probably start this year,” said Roark.
So far in the commonwealth, 15 girls’ teams and 14 boys’ teams have decided to join the newly state-sanctioned sport. Over 200 students will be competing at the state level for a KHSAA championship.