Taking aim at success

Archery is a sport that participants of any age can enjoy. In North Dakota, the National Archery in Schools Program has introduced countless aspiring archers to the finer points of drawing a bow and participating in spirited competition.

Under the direction of Jeff Long, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department oversees the NASP within the state. School districts are encouraged to produce individual and team archers at the elementary, middle school and high school levels. A startup kit is offered to help jump start archery programs.

One of the most active school archery programs is conducted in Dunseith. Physical education teacher Teri Bjerk opted to receive training in the program five years ago. She has helped develop the Dunseith NASP into one of the leading programs in the state.

“The kids were so receptive. It just escalated with school and community support. It is a superb program. I can’t say enough about my students and their successes,” said Bjerk.

Under Bjerk’s guidance more than 150 young archers try out each fall. They shoot for positions on two bows teams of 30 competitors each. Twenty-four team shooters and six alternates are chosen for each squad with teams comprised of an equal number of boys and girls.

“It is neat how great the gals do with it,” said Greg Gullickson, NDG&F outreach biologist. “A couple of years ago at the nationals the women outshot the boys. It is a co-ed sport and you don’t have to be 6-foot-6 or 200 pounds to participate.”

Bows and arrows are fitted to the archers by coaches. While proper fitting equipment is vital to sound archery, it is the young archers who must apply what they learn. At Dunseith the competition for the right to represent the school through NASP is a thorough process.

“Every year they shoot to earn their spot on the team,” explained Bjerk. “Of course, they have to have their grades good to be eligible. They also have to demonstrate good behavior and performance. They shoot to compete with no guarantees.”

NASP is flourishing nationally with 47 states participating in the program. Increased attendance at school, heightened self-esteem and improved academic performance have proven to be by-products of NASP.

Dunseith archers start young. Each year Bjerk takes a number of middle school archers to state competition.

“I expose them so they know what to expect when they get older,” said Bjerk. “From day one, eighth grade through seniors, our focus is to take first and advance to nationals. This year the nationals are at Louisville, Ky.”

The state NASP shoot is scheduled for Bismarck’s VFW Center April 12-13. Dunseith archers will be among the favorites to do well once again. The school produced individual champions in 2009, 2010 and 2012.

“Every year I have males and females that place in the top five,” said Bjerk. “In 2011 our high school team finished second but had enough points to qualify for nationals.”

“That’s one thing about state. It’s not the end. You are off to nationals,” added Gullickson. “The program helps pay for the advancement.”

The Dunseith shooters pull Mathews Genesis compound bows. Practice is conducted at targets placed in the gymnasium.

“Target shooting eventually leads some into bowhunting,” noted Gullickson. “NASP is in over 100 schools in North Dakota and we get, I’d say, close to 500 at the state tournament in Bismarck. It’s growing not only in North Dakota, but nationwide. It is a great program, a lifelong sport.”