Archery interest still catching fire
After making it into the World Archery Tournament last year, Jefferson Middle School is preparing to host its first large tournament Saturday.
For seventh-grader Macheila Anderson, there's excitement and the hope of even bigger things.
She started in sixth grade with the wrong bow — it turns out she's a righty, after all — but in the world tournament last year in St. Louis, she scored 268 out of 300 points, her best mark so far.
"You have to learn how to do the draw," she says of her practices.
It doesn't hurt if you also like "The Hunger Games," as she does.
Last week at Jefferson, the multipurpose room was multi-quiet as middle schoolers silently pointed their bows at targets.
A brief whistle signaled time to retrieve arrows. Another whistle set up new shooters to take their targets.
On Saturday, the Champaign Illini Archery Invitational will be inside the University of Illinois Armory, hosting about 500 shooters. The tournament rules say awards will be given to the top three schools in elementary, middle and high school, the top 10 male and female shooters in each division and the top overall shooters. More information is at bit.ly/1eAgnay.
A team consists of 12 shooters, the genders mixed. Jefferson's team is highly competitive and enthusiastic, according to Greg Schweighart, one of the coaches. His daughter is one of the team members.
Coach Lynne Srull first began teaching archery in her physical education classes. In the first year as a team, 2011, 19 Jefferson pupils joined up. In 2012 the team grew to 56. Now, 100 is within reach.
"The kids are really getting into it," Schweighart says.
In the tournament this weekend, teams that have signed up to compete include Armstrong, Georgetown-Ridge Farm, Schlarman, Mark Bills in Peoria, Roberto Clemente in Chicago, Bowen in Chicago, Champaign Central and Centennial as well as Champaign Next Generation and the host, Jefferson.
Shooters fire off three rounds of five arrows at 10 and 15 meters.
Cole Thompson, owner of Champaign's "Hunter's Haven," said the interest in archery is not limited to the schools.
"There's been a spike in equipment sales since the first movie came out," Thompson said, referring to "The Hunger Games."
But throughout local schools, the archery virus is spreading from Jefferson.
Parent Heather Miller, who has a son on Jefferson's team, also coaches with a 4-H group and Centennial's new squad.
At Centennial, "We have 22 kids, some of them the Jefferson alumni from last year's team," Miller said. "This is the inaugural year for the team at both Centennial and Central. We have the Jefferson team to thank from last year, going to the school board to get those programs going at the high schools."
Newly catching the archery bug is Jefferson sixth-grader Ryan Wierschem.
"It's cool when you finally hit the bull's-eye," he said, adding it took him about a week to do so after first encountering the sport at YMCA Camp Tecumseh in Indiana.
Acquiring the skills of concentration and eye-hand coordination has been a good thing for another sixth-grader, Jaxon Currie.
The experience is confidence-building, he says.
Mom Jennie Currie, who tries to catch as many practices each Wednesday and Saturday as she can, agrees that her son is improving with the skills.
"This is something he really loves," she said.
Sixth-grader Sofia Diaz-Stack likes that archery requires serious concentration.
On the less serious side, she, too, is a "Hunger Games" convert.
"When I saw the movie, I thought 'why not?,'" she said.
Jefferson Principal Angelica Franklin will be one of the celebrity participants at 4 p.m. Saturday, joining TV and radio personalities and Champaign's mayor.
You could root for her, but be aware:
"I'd never tried it before," Franklin admits. "Unfortunately, I haven't yet practiced for the celebrity shoot. I should probably move that up on the priority list."
If you go
What: Champaign Illini Archery Invitational.
When: 10 a.m. Feb. 8
Where: University of Illinois Armory, 505 E. Armory Ave., C
Entrance: Open to the public with a suggested donation of $3