Archery is rising in popularity due to the success of books like 'The Hunger Games'

Whoosh, thump.

Whoosh, thump.

Whoosh, thump.

Last Thursday at a field adjacent to the Jessie Mays Community Center in North Plains, those sounds played out over and over as a group of seven young archers took aim at targets and released their arrows, which — for the most part — pierced paper bulls-eyes on foam targets further upfield.

The two-hour lesson, put on by the North Plains Public Library and Archers Afield, gave adolescents a chance to try out an activity that is not necessarily mainstream in the U.S. sports landscape but is on the rise in popularity nonetheless.

“It’s coming up quite a bit. It’s starting to go back into schools,” said Chelsea LaPoint, the Archers Afield instructor who ushered the teens and tweens through the lesson.

“We’ve got a lot of programs, a lot of clubs, leagues that are popping up with it now that it’s starting to get a little bit more exposure through the movies and the shows and the books that came out there for a little while. So it kind of kicked off a ginormous growth.”Photo Credit: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Anika Gering, 12, and several other students draw back their bows during a free lesson sponsored by the North Plains Public Library.

Indeed, with characters like Katniss Everdeen of the wildly popular book and film series “The Hunger Games,” as well as several other pop culture characters from books and movies embedded in the country’s collective consciousness, membership in USA Archery, the national governing body, has increased dramatically. In a release from May of this year announcing the launch of a basic archery education program for participants of all ages, USA Archery said its membership had increased 72 percent in a 12-month period.

But beyond the pop culture aspect, it’s easy to see why youngsters would want to give archery a try.

Perhaps one of the best aspects to the sport is how quickly it can be picked up. Yes, dedicated archers can spend hours upon hours perfecting their craft, but that level of diligence is not necessary to shoot for fun or to simply try out the sport.

In fact, last week, LaPoint spent just the earliest minutes of the afternoon lesson going over the basics — which covered topics such as safety, etiquette, equipment and technique — but within half an hour or so, the archers were doing a lot of shooting with only minimal feedback.

LaPoint instructs for Archers Afield, an archery shop and indoor range in Portland. She travels throughout the area, hauling archery gear to events ranging from children’s birthday parties and family barbecues to even corporate events. She has instructed archers as young as 3 and 4 years old.

But participants do not need to drop archery once they’ve gotten too old for summer camp. In fact, it is a sport that family members of all ages can do together — which can’t be said for every activity.

“You can get the little kids into it all the way up to grandma and grandpa can shoot it,” LaPoint noted. “There’s different weights of bows. There’s something that fits everybody.”

The participants in last Thursday’s lesson could switch between both short and long recurve bows as well as short and long arrows.

Sophia Spry, 11 of Portland, was one of those who turned out for the event, which returned after an inaugural edition in 2013. She comes out to the North Plains area because her grandparents have a farm in Helvetia, and she participates in the summer reading program at the library. Sophia found that she preferred the longer bow — which she found easier to aim — with the shorter arrow, as the long arrows “went in crazy directions and never hit the target.”

“It was fun,” she said. “It was a little tiring toward the end, but it was fun because we scooted (the targets) back farther each time. And it was fun to see how you got better.”

Anika Gering, who is 12 and lives in unincorporated Washington County, attended the archery event with her aunt. Like Sophia, Anika had previously tried the sport, but it had been a while. She is a fan of the Percy Jackson series of books, which includes several bow-and-arrow-wielding characters.

“It’s not the most common of sports, and I suppose kind of having a bow, because it’s kind of a weapon, kind of makes you feel like you have power, sort of,” she said.

Empowering, and as LaPoint points out, also relaxing. That seems a combination worth trying.

“It’s kind of a gratifying sport because it takes a lot of concentration on your part,” LaPoint said. “It’s a mellow sport. It’s not a super intensive sport, but it requires a lot of focus and a lot of thinking.

“So it’s one of those sports that you can kind of just mellow out and go shoot. You don’t have to get super intense, super riled up for it.”

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