Morgan Williams said she had shot arrows a few times in her life prior to last week.
“When I was little, like 4, my papa got me an arrow. It had a suction cup on the end,” said Morgan, a second-grader in Pat Sokol’s class at West Kelloggsville Elementary.
Her archery experience was elevated to a whole new level last Friday when eleven volunteers came to her school to teach students about the history, craftsmanship, mechanics — and safety, of course — of the time-honored device known as the longbow.
“I learned how to use a bow and arrow in the right way, and I learned how they are made,” said Morgan.
The event marked the sixth year that the Michigan Longbow Association visited West Kelloggsville, said Suzanne Schmier, a reading teacher at the school. Following years of resistance to trying her hand at the longbow, Schmier took up archery and joined the association after her husband, Doug Schmier, a longtime enthusiast, encouraged her to take a shot during a woodland walk a decade ago.
She gave in. And she hit her mark.
“That was all it took,” she said. Schmier now organizes the annual event in the West Kelloggsville Elementary gym to spread the love of the longbow to students.
While students had the chance to shoot arrows at a wall of balloons, their lesson covered a lot more than just target practice.
Steeped in Tradition
Shooting comprised one of four stations students visited. In addition, they got to hear about the progression of how a piece of wood can be transformed into a longbow. They also had the opportunity to decorate their very own pencil in the same style and manner that one might adorn an arrow, to ensure its distinctive marks would be easily recognizable on retrieval. And there was a discussion on archery form and safety.
Morgan said her favorite part of the experience was learning how the arrows were uniquely marked with a pattern, so hunters could identify which ones were theirs, then making her own markings on the pencil.
Learning & Fun
Jessica Viau is the aquatics manager at the Grand Rapids Kroc Center, so working with youth is her forte. She also is a member of the MLA and volunteered at the Kelloggsville demonstration.
“I think it’s great for kids to be exposed to different sports because sports are beneficial not only for their health, but kids focus better in school — they learn to prioritize,” said Viau, adding that one of the volunteer longbow teachers even incorporates math into his lessons.
“If you can find a way to incorporate learning into it, kids will get a whole lot more out of it,” she said.
In addition, Viau said, archery allows children who don’t like team sports to participate in a solo sport while enjoying the social benefits of a team sport, as camps and events are integral to the longbow association.
This is traditional archery, said Schmier: “Stick and string. The longbow is very basic… There is such a history behind the longbow.”
Schmier said that while some MLA members are hunters, the association is about fun and fellowship, not necessarily hunting. They hold a variety of activities and camps throughout the year geared toward families, in an effort to preserve longbow enthusiasm for future generations.
Trying Something New
While the school archery event is designed to be a fun experience for students, Schmier said MLA volunteers look forward to it and come back every year. Here, they have the opportunity to teach and to see little faces light up after sending an arrow sailing, resulting in a popped balloon.
“Mostly, we just want to give them an experience they might not have had,” said Schmier. “Probably today, about 20 kids will be a complete natural. That’s exciting for them to find. They may never have known that.”
Schmier gives partial credit to archers in popular culture — namely, Katniss Everdeen of “Hunger Games” fame and superhero Hawkeye of Marvel Comics — for a renewed interest in archery among young people.
Schmier said that she makes efforts to publicize longbow event opportunities after archery day at school, so interested students and families can get involved.