5 Reasons Congress Was Right to Ensure Education Funds Can Fund Archery at Schools

Congress’ Safer Communities Act brought unexpected consequences: The defunding of school archery programs for hundreds of thousands of students.

Student archers participate in the National Archery in the Schools Program’s Eastern Nationals tournament in Kentucky. (Justin McGrath)

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Last May, after yet another devastating massacre of students in our American schools – this time in Uvalde, Texas – Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. These elected representatives felt the urgency to act on what is not a political issue, but a student safety concern. We all like to sit in the cheap seats and talk to the TV, but these legislators set out to do something to keep kids safer.

However, a provision in the law designated that no funding could be used to give anyone a “dangerous weapon or training in the use of a dangerous weapon.” Suddenly, the fate of the hundreds of thousands of students across the country who are passionate about archery and learned the sport from coaches in schools was in question. Would this law be interpreted to include bows, arrows and quivers? Would the more than 104,000 adults trained as basic archery instructors need to cease their teachings at schools?   

Understanding that the federal law overgeneralized the guidance of what can be classified as a “dangerous weapon,” the National Archery in Schools Program (NASP) stood behind our 21-year unblemished safety record and worked to get legislation passed to clarify that archery could still be funded and allowed in schools. Regardless of party, the bipartisan array of legislators, parents and educators who spoke up in support of these efforts was truly extraordinary. 

Archery supporters wrote, emailed and called their representatives to tell their stories and share what those lawmakers may not have fully understood: Here’s all the good that archery does for kids. Banning bows and arrows was not what was intended in that student safety regulation and individuals, education leaders and conservation organizations came together to change that. 

Late fall, H.R. 5110 was passed to allow schools to utilize federal education funds to purchase or use archery equipment and train students in archery. When President Biden signed it into law, I breathed a sigh of relief. 

If you’ve seen the effect learning archery in schools has on kids, you know why this landmark bill was a big deal. If you’re unfamiliar with archery and are wondering why this matters for students, here’s why: 

  • Archery appeals to a broad base of students. Kids from underrepresented communities are just as likely to participate as kids who are coasting along, otherwise completely unengaged in school. Archery engages kids; in fact, 58 percent of kids who participate in archery say they feel more connected to their school. As a school administrator, I was constantly looking at test scores, talking to educators and trying to figure out what we were doing to reach the kids who weren’t participating in additional activities for various reasons. Archery often provides the spark that allows those kids, who might otherwise be overlooked, to find their passion and their people.
  • Archery has a positive effect on school culture. In the words of two of my superintendent mentors, “Culture eats everything else for breakfast.” When archery is introduced, I’ve seen kids become more positive about and engaged in school and an overall uplift to school culture.
  • Archery gives kids connection and a taste of success, often for the first time in their lives. Maybe they don’t feel like an athlete or a scholar or one of the popular kids, but they still need to feel success, especially at that critical time in their lives when they are in middle and high school. 
  • Archery is presented to everyone, often in PE. Students try it, they like it, they figure it out and they keep at it until they hit the target. They talk about it on the bus, with friends, with their families. The anecdote we hear over and over again is, “My kid never cared about anything until they learned archery.” It’s not the archery, it’s the opportunity to succeed. 
  • Archery is truly equal opportunity. Regardless of gender, race or ability, kids can participate and excel with archery. Kids with learning differences, emotional and physical disabilities and those who are neurodiverse can truly shine through archery. Kids from wealthy home environments use the exact same bow as students from lower-income households. 

NASP is the largest youth archery organization in the world. We require a 10-hour minimum in-school component to introduce new audiences to the sport. Any school anywhere can participate. In fact, nearly 9,000 schools across the U.S. do. More that 1.3 million kids each year are part of the program.

Archery is safe, it’s beneficial and I’m so grateful that unintentional overextension in one law gave us the opportunity not only to clarify how safe the sport truly is, but to shine the spotlight on just how much good it does for the kids we all try to reach each and every day. 

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