Memories in the Bank

MLA councilman Todd Greenwald teaches this West K-Ville 2nd grader how to draw a bow.

It began with an opportunity suggested by an elementary school teacher and ended with an experience I’ll never forget. Last Fall, MLA member Suzanne Schmier approached us with a need. The 2nd and 3rd grade students of West Kellogsville Elementary School (Kellogsville, Michigan) were due a reward day and the faculty wanted to make it special. Since nothing particularly awesome was coming to mind, Suzanne recommended an archery day to her colleagues. Her students knew she shot a longbow and asked about it often. She was certain that if the stars aligned for both school and organization, it was destined to be something special.

Her request trickled in, down, and eventually flopped onto my lap. I was the closest councilman so it made sense for me to make it happen. I contacted Suzanne to accept the offer and set to work without knowing where to start. I didn’t think it would be that difficult. How hard could it be for a practiced “archer” to show a handful of kids how to shoot a longbow?

Suzanne Schmier working with a West K-Ville student on the range.

The answer was in the details. We would be cycling classes of 20-30 kids through 30 minutes at a time from 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. There wasn’t a spoon big enough to eat those words! I started to panic. I needed a date. I needed a location. I needed volunteers. I needed bows, arrows, and targets. I needed permission slips. I needed a safe place to shoot. I needed entertainment when they weren’t shooting. I needed something to stop the arrows. I NEEDED HELP!!!!

Fortunately for me, MLA Secretary Floyd “Bub” Wells came to the rescue. He’d done this before and knew a rookie like me had no idea what he was in for. On the other hand, even he had not endured a timeframe as smashed as this one and was a little freaked out by it, which increased my freaking out by at least 75% (give or take).

“Bub” doing what he does best, spreading his love of the longbow to others.

The date was set for Friday, April 25 and we would need every bit of that time to align our ducks and devise a plan that would ensure both fun and safety for all involved. We talked a lot and we worried a lot, but it eventually came together. I picked up the bows, arrows, and balloons we would need from current MLA President Mike Vines at the Winter Banquet and Suzanne’s husband Doug acquired six large foam blocks for back stops from a local manufacturer. Bub picked up the rest and created a four-station rotation that educated, entertained, and milked every second of time each class had with us. It went something like this:

  • Station 1: the parts of a bow and how they function
  • Station 2: dominant eye and aiming a bow and arrow
  • Station 3: the components of an arrow and how they fly
  • Station 4: one-on-one shooting instruction at the range (aka “popping balloons”)

The “education” stations would have one instructor a piece. The shooting range would have six (one per student). The remaining folks would be on balloon detail with the exception of Suzanne who was keeping time and filling in when needed. Every station would be 5-6 minutes long with enough time for rotation.

Long time MLA member Rob Kruko teaching the kids a thing or two about arrows.

It was a solid plan, but we needed people to pull it off. MLA members are spread throughout the state, but always eager to help. We ended up with 11 additional volunteers, which ended up being the perfect amount and we were happy to have every one of them.

We’d always intended on having the event outside, but when the 25th arrived a downpour met us in the parking lot. Much to our dismay, we were forced to relocate to the gym, which ended up being the best scenario we could’ve hoped for. The close proximity made changing stations faster and the kids all had plenty of time to shoot. We set the foam blocks and balloons along the stage on one end of the gym, with the heavy gym curtain draped above for added protection. The painted lines of the gym did their part as shooting lines and the cafeteria lunch tables were the perfect barricade for funneling the kids in and out safely.

Member John Buchin helping this particularly eager young lady pop her first balloon. It would not be her last.

It was a fantastic setup, but shooting was slow at first. Each kid only shot 5-6 arrows a piece, but as the instructors on the line improved, the numbers did as well. By the time the 2nd group arrived, we were sending a dozen or more down range. By the time the 4th group arrived we were nearly out of balloons. Not only were the kids learning faster, but they were getting more accurate. Their confidence grew with every balloon popped.

The kids went through at least 300 balloons. We had to buy more at lunch. The majority popped at least one. Some popped 4 or more.

The fun was infectious. Balloons shrapnel was everywhere and both kid and instructor were having a blast. They came in apprehensive and they left with wonder in their eyes and smiles on their faces. It might as well have been Christmas day for us. It just doesn’t get any better than that. If you want to promote archery, you have to start with the kids. There is no better audience.

Click here to find out more about the Michigan Longbow Association. If you are interested in running an archery event like this and have questions, feel free to look message me or comment on this thread!

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