Contributed photo
Certified archery instructors train students in Otter Tail County.

By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

Youth archery is becoming more and more popular in Otter Tail County, with the support of 4-H and other organizations.

This is the first year that students have been able to be trained in archery through Fergus Falls Community Education with a basic set of equipment owned by School District 544. 

A grant from the Minnesota DNR and matching aid from the Fergus Falls Fish and Game Club made this class possible along with the cooperation of Superintendent Jeff Drake and Community Education Director Mary Matteson. 

Dave Sanderson, Chad Raitz and Jeff Struck are archery instructors as part of Fergus Falls Community Education for six consecutive Mondays: March 14, 21 and 28 and April 4, 11 and 18.

All three men are certified as Basic Archery Instructors (BAI) in the National Archery in the School Program (NASP). 

Struck is also certified for the archery discipline for the 4-H Shooting Sports and Wildlife project. 4-H also requires certification to coach a wide variety of other shooting sports in their program through the University of Minnesota Extension.

Twenty youths are signed up with 10 youths in each of two different classes, 5th through 8th graders, from 3:45 to 4:45 and from 4:45 to 5:45 at the Kennedy Secondary School community ed section. There are also some students on a waiting list for the next offering or in the event of cancellations. 

Sanderson and Struck also volunteer with archery instruction for 5th grade students attending the Prairie Science Class at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center on the south side of Fergus Falls 

“Matt Conner (USFWS) and trained NASP BAI trainer deserves credit for establishing archery at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center by obtaining proper equipment and training many volunteers” said Sanderson, who retired as a physician in Fergus Falls in 2011.

Struck retired from Otter Tail Power Company in 2016 where he had worked in system operations. Raitz is still working at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife office in Fergus Falls.

Other individuals have also been trained as NASP BAIs and have helped with the 5th grade instruction at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center. Up to 80 5th grade students participated this year alone in Tia Thysell’s and Becky Greenagel’s classes, who are also NASP BAIs. 

It is safety first when conducting archery classes inside a gymnasium.

There are 10-by-30-foot nets to protect areas behind the target butts. The structured range and archery equipment ensures that NASP is the safest academic sport for grades 4-12 youth in school, second only to ping pong (as quoted in government sports injury reports).

Schools in each state offer tournaments that allow individuals and teams from neighboring schools to compete for awards. 

“There can be hundreds of youth participating in any one such tournament. State and national competitions can offer scholarship money to be awarded to top archers.”

Jeff Struck, archery instructor

Adds Sanderson, “These tournaments can host as many as a thousand youths at the state tournament. NASP offers academic incentives through their Academic Archer awards where good shooting and good grades combine. There are as many girls as boys that can compete.” 

A new Fergus Falls Area Home School NASP archery group has just completed shooting in four school tournaments. Their required training was conducted through the 4-H Shooting Sport and Wildlife summer program. 

As noted by Struck, “We commend the West Otter Tail County 4-H SS&W Club for their wonderful strides made in archery and other shooting competition.”

“It has been a learning experience as well as exciting to compete with hundreds of other school students,” Struck said. “As examples, competition is quite stiff with 343 students competing in the Alexandria tournament and over 250 in the Wahpeton Tournament.”

Two tournaments were virtual, where scores were shot in the Lakes Area Archers range in Erdahl and submitted electronically with the help of Tom Johnson, a prominent area competitive archer and Otter Tail Power retiree.

The plan is to offer similar experiences to the District 544 students who are qualified and who practiced for next winter’s tournaments.

Sanderson, Struck and Johnson have been working with Mick Johnson of the Fergus Falls Parks, Recreation, and Forestry to establish a suitable community archery range location. 

There is now an outdoor archery range at DeLagoon Park two miles south of Fergus Falls near Pebble Lake. The site has seen some activity by the community, and this summer there will also be targets for kids.

A search is on for more grant money for a broadhead target and elevated shooting platform. Much of the equipment has been funded by a grant from the Blandin Foundation and volunteer labor. Someday there will be an indoor archery range as well. 

More information about these youth and community archery opportunities can be found by contacting the Fergus Falls Parks, Rec, and Forestry office, West Otter Tail County Extension office, and the School District 544 Community Ed office. 

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