INDIANAPOLIS — A shrieking whistle interrupted the bustle of the crowd Saturday inside the Champions Pavilion at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
It was time to shoot.
Ninety-three archers, 66 in a long line that stretched along one side of the building and 27 along another wall, approached their 10-meter line and prepared to shoot a round of the Indiana National Archery in the Schools Program State Tournament.
In an instant, the “thump, thump, thump” of arrows piercing their target became the dominant sound. It was the first of five arrows that each archer would shoot before the all-clear was sounded so they could walk forward and record their score.
When the fifth arrows were shot, the din returned to the pavilion.
Scipio’s Kelly Barr, whose 12-year-old son, Owen, was competing, looked around the jam-packed building.
“It’s a little small for all these people,” she noted.
That was a nice problem to have for Indiana NASP coordinator Tim Beck, who was instrumental in getting the NASP program started in Indiana.
With 1,988 archers, from fourth through 12th grades, competing in qualifiers and 1,610 participating Saturday, the sport is on the rise.
“A think there are a whole lot of reasons that archery is taking off,” said Beck, an Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement officer. “The success of movies such as ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Brave’ has something to do with it. And we’re coming off an Olympics and this is an Olympic sport.”
The first NASP State Tournament was conducted in 2007 and drew 248 shooters. Last year’s event had about 1,000 shooters.
It looks like Beck needs to find a bigger building.
“It’s something that everyone can do,” he said. “Not everyone can make a football or basketball team. This is a real individual sport that allows kids to challenge themselves.
“And if you pick it, it’s a lifetime sport. You can do it anywhere as long as you’ve got a safe backstop.”
The event Saturday began at 7:30 a.m. and continued through the early evening as waves as shooters took turns competing. Each archer shot 15 arrows at 10 meters and 15 at 15 meters, with each arrow being scored on a 1 to 10 point value depending on whether it hit the bulls-eye or another ring on the target. The competition was divided into three groups, fourth- and fifth-graders, sixth- through eighth-graders and the high school division.
“This is my son’s first year,” Kelly Barr said. “It gives him something to look forward to. He plays basketball and baseball and wrestles, but this is more an individual thing versus team.”
While many of the competitors compete in other sports in school, others find archery right up their alley as their only sport.
“You don’t have to be an athlete,” said retired DNR Captain Dave Windsor. “Anyone can shoot.
“And what has made this program popular is instant gratification. For these kids, it’s like a video game.”
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to be among the best.
“To be good, it takes patience, determination, discipline and self-motivation,” Beck said.
So what does that mean?
“Practice,” said South Decatur seventh-grader Shelby Blaich, who is competing in her second year of archery. “You can lose it if your release is wrong, and you have to make sure you aim through the arrow.”
Blaich’s mom, Julie Blaich, is now her coach. The elder Blaich knew that South Decatur Middle School and South Decatur High School needed help with the program. She took an eight-hour DNR course that was designed to develop coaches.
“It was a good course to take,” Julie Blaich said. “It was very hands-on. And at the end of the course, you actually have to get up there and run it. The instructors become your students.”
What does Julie Blaich believe makes a good archer?
“Shooting, shooting, shooting,” she said.
Julie Blaich is a co-coach of the middle and high school programs with Kevin Doyle, who coached the South Decatur Elementary program last year and moved to the middle and older kids this year.
Doyle was asked if he thought he has done a good job being so new to coaching.
“I think we do pretty well,” he said. “We had a pizza party and we coach the fundamentals.”
Fun and safety are two goals of the NASP, which is meant mostly to introduce kids to archery.
“These kids are rambunctious,” Doyle said. “We are constantly reminding them to be safe.”
South Decatur seventh-grader Eric Hedger plays basketball and football, but archery is a natural sport for him.
“I like hunting,” he said.
While many of the archers on Saturday already had an interest in hunting, the National Wild Turkey Federation polled more than 200 archers, and 60 percent said that archery would eventually lead them to try hunting. That is great news for the DNR, which hopes that the path will lead people to understand and protect their environment.
With more than 93 schools participating in state tournament qualifiers, Beck expects even more schools and students to be exposed to archery in the near future.
Although neither Columbus North or Columbus East was represented Saturday, Beck noted that Columbus East senior (Brandon Ziegler) has done his senior project on adding a club team at the school.
So it could mean more archers next year, and perhaps a bigger building.
Right on target
The top local finishers at NASP State Tournament (Saturday at Champions Pavilion, Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis)
Natalie Owens, Jennings County High School freshman — 292 points, first of 279 high school girls, first of 727 overall girls
Ashley Maschino, Jennings County Middle School fifth-grader — 287 points, second of 323 middle school girls, fifth of 727 overall girls
Adrienne Garris, Jennings County High School sophomore — 280 points, top 10th-grade girl, 19th overall of 727 girls
Logan Applegate, Jennings County High School sophomore — 290 points, fourth of 312 high school boys, fourth of 826 overall boys
Jacob Brooks, Jennings County High School freshman — 288 points, fifth of 312 high school boys, fifth of 826 overall boys, top ninth-grader
Zach Ferris, South Decatur Middle School sixth-grader — 288 points, firts of 369 middle school boys, sixth of 826 overall boys, top sixth-grader
Orion Ingmire, Jennings County Middle school seventh-grader — 278 points, top seventh-grade boy
Jennings County High School, first of 30 teams
Jennings County Middle School, first of 31 teams
South Decatur Middle School, fourth of 31 teams
Brush Creek Elementary School, second of 12 teams
North Vernon Elementary School, fourth of 12 teams
South Decatur Elementary School, fifth of 12 teams