Johnny Morris has found another way to get kids away from their game devices, off the couch and into the outdoors.
On Tuesday the founder of Bass Pro Shops presented a $100,000 check to the National Archery in the Schools Program, his fourth donation in as many years.
Moments later, a group of Springfield youngsters who took up the sport of archery through the NASP program at their schools aimed at a row of circular targets in the Wonders of Wildlife parking lot.
Zachary Ondr, 13, from Pershing Middle School, quietly sank five arrows into the yellow bullseye. Then he did it again.
“When I was 3 my grandfather got me my first compound bow, a 5-pound draw,” Zachary said. “He taught me a lot, but he had cancer and passed away. He’s one of the big reasons I kept doing it. It’s something we got to do together.”
Though he plays lacrosse, bikes and snow skis, Zachary said he likes the relaxation and focus that archery brings.
“It’s a lot more relaxed, more mental,” he said. “It’s more about your focus than a physical challenge.”
Skylar Lee, 11, who attends WOLF School at Wonders of Wildlife, said she had never done archery before she took it up through WOLF’s NASP program.
“I like shooting arrows, it’s enjoyable,” she said. “I swim and dance, but archery is more in your head.”
Mackenzie Smith, 15, from Hillcrest High School, said competitive archery is about overcoming nerves, but enjoys the feel of being in the zone.
“I just like how quiet it gets,” she said. “How you have a clear state of mind when you’re shooting.”
NASP started in 2002 in 21 Kentucky school districts, but now has expanded to 49 states and nine Canadian provinces. Tommy Floyd, NASP vice president, said 66 percent of youngsters who join a NASP program are first-time archers.
“When you master the bow and arrow, you become someone who is in better control of yourself,” Floyd said.
NASP also helps students “pursue the outdoors lifestyle,” he said. “We say we change lives one arrow at a time.”
In Missouri, 770 schools — including those in Springfield — participate in NASP, in partnership with Bass Pro Shops and the Missouri department of Conservation. MDC education coordinator Warren Rose said 90,000 students have taken up archery through NASP.
“This program reaches students who aren’t playing football or volleyball,” Rose said.
It results in better school attendance and higher grades, he added.
That’s been the experience of Marty Marsh, assistant athletic director at Springfield Public Schools.
He said the Springfield district established student archery programs through NASP in 2008 and he said it has become a huge success for the district.
He said the NASP program is helping the district reach its goal of having 90 percent of its students involved in some kind of after-school program. Students who take up archery show greater confidence and self esteem, he added.
“We’ve observed students becoming engaged in after-school activities who would not traditionally be interested in athletics,” Marsh said. “We held our first competition in Springfield in the 2017-1018 school year, and it was a perfect fit for all students with varying backgrounds.”