Aiming for improvement

At Westminster youth archery club, kids shoot to better skills, not beat opponents


In a clearing hidden behind trees, up a hill and beyond the sign reading "Archery," 14 youths between the ages of 8 and 15 set their stances, pull arrows from the orange safety cones set up as makeshift quivers and eye the paper targets 30 feet away.

Over the next hour, each of the bows will launch 60 arrows, the archers stopping every five shots to retrieve their arrows and record their scores on nearby clipboards.

For many members of the Summer Fletchling Archery Club at Westminster's Hashawha Environmental Center, the fun comes from individual accomplishment.

Once the session ends and the point totals are calculated, the focus is less on who did best, but on how they can do better.

"It's just a competing-against-yourself kind of thing," said Tina Shupp, outdoor recreation specialist at Hashawha and Bear Branch Nature Center. "It's instant gratification [because] it's easy to see improvement."

On June 19, the club's first sessions of the season provided a standard for the archers to measure their progress.

No matter their scores, the activity is enjoyable, the archers said.

"I thought it was cool to shoot bows," said Ryan Rippeon, 8, of Westminster. Aside from a required beginner's course, it was Ryan's first attempt at archery. He earned 12 points.

"I'm hoping to get between 15 and 22 [next time]," Ryan said.

In contrast, Rebecca Shilts, 13, of Westminster, is in her third year at the archery club. Her top score climbed from 105 in 2004 to 132 last year.

"I think she enjoys it because she can do it better than her older brothers," said Laurie Shilts, Rebecca's mother. "She seems to have a natural talent for it, and she's the baby of the family, so having something special is important."

For brothers Sam and Joe Franzese, both of Westminster, archery fills different needs.

Joe, 10, enjoys the exercise, while Sam, 9, likes competition, said their mother, Nancy Franzese. Sam was overjoyed to receive archery equipment for Christmas and set up a target in their back yard, she said.

"He didn't want to lose his edge," Nancy Franzese said.

Just like practicing was important to Sam, superstition was necessary for Matthew Thrift, 9, of Taneytown.

Matthew donned his lucky blue-toe socks for the occasion, said Nicole Thrift, Matthew's mother.

"I wanted to get higher points," said Matthew, who had a total of 52 for the day, including one bull's-eye. "It's really fun to get bull's-eyes, and just to shoot; it's very fun."

While the young archers were shooting, many had family members seated off to the side, watching, supervising younger siblings and giving occasional congratulations and words of encouragement.

"It's good for him," said Nicole Thrift. "He has done well. It's building his self confidence."

The archery club, founded in 2003, got its name by combining "fletch," the feather that stabilizes an arrow, with "fledgling," a young bird recently capable of flight.

The club is holding 24 sessions on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from June through August. There will also be two competitions and a pool party, at which prizes and awards will be handed out.

Archers are required to be members of the nature center, at least 8-years-old and must have attended Shupp's Archery for Beginners course.

Registration is closed for the summer. For information on future sessions, call 410-848-2517.

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