Skagway’s long-running archery program has hitched its wagon to the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP), providing the club with a quiver full of new opportunities, challenges for participating students and resources.

Skagway resident Darren Belisle started the group – which meets on Sundays in the Skagway School gym – years ago, but very recently the program has received some additional support from both inside and outside the community.

The club has been an informal affair – kids show up to shoot at 3 p.m., with adults able to take their turn on the range at 4 p.m.

“It’s not competitive, it’s just for personal enrichment, but pretty neat” said Aaron Schmidt, a Skagway teacher who helps run the club.

By participating with the NASP, now the informal Sunday club also has a more formal option, one that is more flexible than many traditional activities currently available to students.

As the name implies, Schmidt said the NASP facilitates student archery competition at a national level, with a nation-wide tournament held every year.
During the NASP season, schools are able to hold archery competitions on their own and send scorecards into the organization.

Hallsten Sasfai sights down the range. PHOTOS BY DAN FOX

“We can qualify for nationals that way, which in the Southeast [Alaska] is just amazing, given the travel that’s necessary to participate in just about any program,” Schmidt said. “DDF, sports, robotics, we’re talking some serious ferry travel. Those trips to Prince of Wales Island are just epic, I mean Odyssey-like, 36 hours just to get there sometimes.”

Those sorts of trips are beneficial for the students, Schmidt said, but the ability to hold a tournament right at Skagway’s school whenever necessary comes with benefits of its own.

The style of competition offered by archery is also a little different from typical activities.

The experience of head-to-head competition, like students get in basketball or cross-country, can be a “wonderful thing,” Schmidt said.

“But has it’s drawbacks as well,” Schmidt said.

“Or rather, for a lot of us doesn’t tell the whole story, whereas from what I gather, the general culture of the NASP is a different kind of competition, even when it is head-to-head at nationals.

“The culture of it is pretty supportive, [it] sounds kind of akin to robotics in that regard,” Schmidt added, referring to the FIRST LEGO League Robotics concept of “Coopertition,” or kindness and respect in the face of competition.

Respect for the tools of the sport is also important – students are taught to handle the bow and arrows carefully, and follow proper range procedure when shooting and retrieving their projectiles.

Another selling point of archery is that it is open to people of all ability levels.

“Archery is open to a lot of people that might not find a lot of success with a traditional sport,” Schmidt said, adding that facet of the activity is something he loves about it. “That’s a big part of its national popularity, which is really on the rise.”

The archery club is raising funds to purchase some new equipment; NASP offers a grant that Schmidt said Skagway will apply for, and the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad donated $1,000 to help the club.

The group is reaching out to other community organizations for aid.

“What I’m hoping is, for it to start up, it won’t even cost the school anything,” Schmidt said. “Everything always costs the school something, but I honestly think to start it up we can just get help from the people around us, and just make it happen…I think that will make it particularly special as well, that there are other folks involved.”