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Chris Rosenblum: Archery program hopes to fly high

Talk about straight arrow characters.

In “The Hunger Games” trilogy, Katniss Everdeen shoots a mean bow. So does superhero Hawkeye of “The Avengers” fame.

Skylar Peters, a real-life archer, aims to capitalize on their popularity.

Peters is launching a Centre County 4-H archery club called the Arrow-Slingers for youth ages 8-18 and all skill levels. Meeting monthly at first, club members will learn about archery on the range and in the classroom at the Outdoors Sportsman’s Club on Purdue Mountain near Bellefonte.

“The main idea is to teach kids the proper use of the bow and arrow,” said Peters, 23, a 4-H program assistant who grew up in State College. “It’s going to be for fun, but there’s also a competitive side, too.”

She has her sights set on starting next month, but in the meantime, interested youth can attend an informational meeting 6:30 p.m. June 22 in Room 320 of the Willowbank Building in Bellefonte.

If what Peters hears is correct, some will show up inspired by the movies.

In recent years, an ancient sport has been given 21st century flash through the deadeye shooting of Katniss, Hawkeye and Princess Merida, the animated heroine of “Brave.” Suddenly, pulling back a bowstring and letting fly is cool for a new generation.

“It’s Hollywood, but I think it’s done a really good thing for archery. Girls want to be Katniss,” Peters said. “I think it’s definitely a huge influence on kids these days, which is good for me.”

Thirteen years ago, she didn’t fall in love with archery with a tub of popcorn in her hands.

She held a bow.

“My uncle goes hunting, so he wanted me to learn shooting sports when I was little,” Peters said.

He also taught her to shoot a rifle. Now 23, she enjoys testing her marksmanship both ways, but archery remains her favorite, a backyard pursuit even living in State College.

“It’s calmer,” she said. “I like to shoot guns still, but shooting a bow is quiet. It’s peaceful.”

Growing up locally, she belonged to a 4-H archery club before participating in the Penn State Collegiate 4-H program while studying at University Park. During her year with Centre County 4-H, an idea has been brewing.

“I realized there was a desire for an archery club,” she said. “Being so interested in it, I thought, ‘Why don’t I take the lead in starting one up?’ I love working with kids, so it was exciting in that aspect.”

Two friends — Chelsea Kephart, an experienced archer, and Sarah Johnson, a newcomer to the sport — joined her over the winter. Together, they’re set to introduce the fundamentals of archery through practice at the Outdoor Sportsman’s Club’s range.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve been shooting since you were little, or have never picked up a bow before,” Peters said. “There are several volunteers and leaders who have been trained to be archery instructors and they will accommodate all skill levels.”

Members will need to pay a $30 fee to join 4-H, but after that, the club will require no extra fees. Bows, quivers, arrows, shooting gloves and finger tabs — pieces of leather finger guards so there’s no skin contact pulling back bowstrings — will be provided, though participants are free to bring their own gear.

The plan is to use classic recurve bows, like Katniss shoots, rather than heavier compound bows with their cables and pulleys. Everything will go by the book — two, actually. In one, a log, members will record when they shoot and for how long. The other will be an archery guide, teaching about bows, shooting techniques, the sport’s history and safety procedures.

Safety will be the top priority, Peters said, though she hopes to give club members a little range time even at their first meeting.

“You can talk about it, but I want them to do it,” she said. “That’s how you learn it.”

Over the year, she said, members will have opportunities to display their skills at “fun-shoots” with other county 4-H clubs, at the 4-H State Achievement Days held at Penn State in August, and, if they qualify, national competitions.

So far, it’s looking promising. Earlier this year, she sent out a survey to county 4-H youth about the archery club, and about 20 people responded.

“It’s what I hoped. I’ll take as many kids that are interested. And volunteers are more than welcome to come and help,” Peters said, adding she can arrange for state-certified archery instruction training for anyone interested.

One thing club members won’t be doing is bounding around, running and shooting like archer superheroes — not yet. There’s an outlet for that, 3D shoots, where skilled competitors tear through woods, going from target to target.

For now, future Arrow-Slingers will sling standing still at the shooting line. If they have fun doing so, Peters will have hit the bull’s-eye.

“It’s a release, I think,” she said. “I like to shoot archery to relieve my stress. That’s what I’m hoping the kids get out of it.”

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