Story and photos by Melissa Norris
A group of kids ages 6- to 16 walk down the 10-lane, 20-yard indoor archery range at Full Curl Archery on Old Seward Highway in Anchorage to check out the results of their first practice round. It is Youth League tournament night at the local archery shop and the place is filled with happy kids and proud parents.
With 44 members of the Winter Youth League this season, there are enough kids registered to warrant two nights of tournament play. There is a Friday night group and Saturday night group. Families line up outside Full Curl Archery on sign-up days in order to get a spot for their kids. It sells out quickly for both the fall league that begins in October and the winter league that begins in January.
Impressively, there is about an even number of youth girls as there are boys. Full Curl Archery owner Joni Marie Kiser tells me there has been a lot of buzz surrounding archery lately, with the release of movies like Brave and The Hunger Games. She said an even larger attractor was the Olympic Games to spark kids’ interest.
Here in Alaska it is even more appealing because the kids want to do what their parents are doing, and that means hunting, often with bows. One father told me that his son Justice wanted to learn archery because Dad was practicing in the backyard with one of his friends. They heard Full Curl Archery was having a good sale on a youth archery package, so Justice could get set-up with the proper equipment. From there the staff at Full Curl let him know there was a youth league, and he has been involved ever since.
The kids shoot at FITA targets, which are also used for our state competitions. The league runs for 10 weeks and each night there is a winner for each age group. There are 11-and-under and 12-and-over categories. At the end of the 10-week season an overall winner from each age group, from each of the two nights, is selected based on the number of times they have won over the period in their age group for their night. The four first-place winners, in addition to second- and third places, are announced at the end of the season party thrown by Full Curl, where there is candy, balloons and prizes.
Before the warm-ups first began on the night I attended, Joni made announcements and let the kids and parents know I was there to take photos and write about their youth league. One young girl named Kaylee Higgins came up to me right away. “If we are in the magazine, will our names be in there below the photo?” she asked. I grinned to myself. Clearly this girl would be getting some ink. As it turned out she won that night for the 11-and-under category and has won quite frequently. She got involved in archery because when walking through a sporting-goods store with her family she saw a bow and didn’t know what it was. She asked her dad, who explained it to her. Her reply?
“Can I shoot it?”
Obviously, the answer was yes. Kaylee has been in the Full Curl Archery youth league forthe last three years.
There are 10 rounds in each of the weekly competitions. In each round, first a group of kids line up to shoot at the lower placed targets and then another group lines up to shoot at the uppers. Each kid gets three arrows per round. Once both the lowers and uppers have shot each round, the group yells “clear” and the kids and scoring volunteer parents head down to check the scores before the kids retrieve their arrows for the next round. Scoring is based on location of the arrows. The kids receive one point for hitting the outside ring and another point for each ring in between all the way up to getting a ten for hitting the center. The highest possible score for ten rounds amounts to 300. Scoring is one aspect of the game, but the kids and parents cheer for each other as theirscores are announced at the end of each night.
It is interesting to see how the different kids behave in the situations. Some are ultra-serious, intent on winning, while others seem to be more laid back about the outcome but still try their hardest. I saw varying degrees of intensity, but most of the kids were jovial and laughing at themselves when they didn’t score high. It is a very social situation, with young archers who have been in the leagues together for some time and who’ve made friends with the others. Families get involved, too, to the point where some now socialize together outside archery.
One brother and sister team has even gotten their father into shooting archery. It started with brother Jared participating, which sparked the interest of his sister, “Pink Emma” (named because there are two girls named Emma in the league and this one always wears pink). Now both kids are in the league and their dad comes to be with them and help with scoring. Apparently he now practices shooting a bow as a hobby as well.
Full Curl Archery is owned by Dave and Joni Marie Kiser. They opened the shop four years ago and have watched it grow into a success. Their warm family atmosphere encourages men, women and children to shop, learn and hang out with family and friends. The owners are avid bow hunters who appreciate everything this beautiful state offers. Joni grew up here hunting with her dad, Alaskan Master Guide and outfitter Keith Johnson. (That’s her on the cover of this issue). Dave moved here in 2005 in search of the hunting Mecca, having grown up hunting himself and shooting a bow since he was 12. They are both successful hunters and have taken everything from trophy brown bears to moose in Alaska with their bows. They are firm believers in running an honest business and strive to provide the lowest price-points in the area for archery services, equipment and accessories. The owners are on the premises ready to help you themselves, in addition to their qualified staff that is highly knowledgeable in the field of archery.
In addition to the youth league, Full Curl Archery also participates in a home-school program in Alaska. Both shop owners are certified to participate in the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP). In Alaska this is a joint effort between the NASP, the Department of Education and the Division of Wildlife Conservation. Partners include archery equipment manufacturers, local sportsman’s organizations and sporting-goods stores, including Full Curl Archery. One hundred and twenty schools in Alaska from Ketchikan to Nome are participants, according to Alaska State Coordinator Kirk Lingofelt. About 4000 kids went through the program in 2013. Kirk reiterated what Joni said about archery being a sport that almost every kid can do. It even turns into a community event in some of our smaller towns across Alaska.
The program is available in several public schools, private schools and through home-school programs like the one provided by Full Curl. Kids get physical-education credit for participating. Joni and Dave teach an average of 30 kids in a class for home-school. The shop is closed during the program, so the kids have the range to themselves. In addition, there are classes for different levels of archery students from beginner to advanced. They even offer classes suited for kids wanting to learn to hunt in Alaska with a bow, so that they can become bow-hunter certified by the state. In this class they learn things like how to shoot sitting down or shoot from a tree-stand and where to specifically hit an animal for maximum humane lethality.
If the school program or league nights aren’t for your kids, then they can take individual- or small-group lessons at the rate of $35 per lesson. These lessons are available to both kids and adults. Gear can be rented for only $7.50 a session, allowing people to test different styles and brands before they choose what to buy. There are five archery instructors at Full Curl Archery. Depending on your level of experience or specific needs, an instructor would be recommended to you. Joni Kiser, Nigel Fox, Ginger Blackmon, Cody Jacobson and Kenny Barnhart are all staff instructors able to provide lessons. Even couples or families can come learn together. The range is open during business hours and shooters can come pay $10 per day and practice for an unlimited amount of hours.
For more information on the youth league, Full Curl Archery home-school program or private lessons, contact Joni or Dave Kiser at 907-344-2697, stop in the store at 12501 Old Seward Highway, just south of Huffman in Anchorage, or email email@example.com. Visit their website www.fullcurlarchery.com and like their Facebook page.
Archery is a great sport for teaching kids. And there’s success to be found: Maddox, a third-grade home-school student of Joni’s last year, did well in our state competition and went on to qualify for and participate in nationals in Kentucky. It is an enormous opportunity for the youth of Alaska. Whether they would prefer to be in the home-school classes, take individual lessons or participate in the league, archery is designed to provide an even playing field for kids. Being taller or one gender over the other doesn’t matter. It isn’t really relevant what their age is or if they are athletic or even if they have disabilities, archery is available to most everyone. They learn the spirit of competition and sportsmanship; they learn self-confidence and discipline, all while socializing with other kids and families. It is a completely healthy way to spend time as a family.
And now I’m wondering, just how many of these kids in the youth league are future hunting partners, destined to be seen in these pages again years down the road?
Melissa Norris is publisher of Hunt Alaska and Fish Alaska magazines. For questions she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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