In Brock, Poolville and Millsap, a group of high school students are taking aim at a state championship.
The National Archery in the Schools Program recently held the Texas State Scholarship Championship in Belton and three Parker County schools were competing. Brock and Poolville made return trips, while Millsap was joining them with its first-year program.
"The appeal of archery, I think, is here in our rural area," said Brock coach Kelly McDonald. "We have the interest already, but the NASP program gives those students an opportunity to participate in a team sport where they might not have been able to before.
"I mean, they don't run the fastest, jump the highest, throw the hardest, or maybe their personal health won't allow them to participate in those type of sports activities. It's [archery] a place to fit in and make a contribution on a school team."
At Brock and Poolville the archery students have certainly made an impression in a hurry. In only its second season last year, Brock qualified for state, national and world competition, one of only 49 teams to reach the world plateau. Poolville qualified for nationals in 2013.
Poolville was also ranked sixth in Texas in 2014 and qualified for a return to nationals in Louisville, Kentucky. However, a conflict with End Of Course Testing prevented their return.
And while it remains to be seen what lies ahead for Millsap, the program has qualified to compete at state in only its first season.
"The students are feeling good about what they have accomplished, and that breeds the desire to be successful," said Millsap coach Johnny Hook, noting his faith in the program's longevity.
The NASP appears to be growing in popularity. Brock has 42 in its program (17 elementary, 18 junior high, 7 high school), up from 16 last year. Poolville has 16 on its high school roster, and Millsap had over 30 try out for its inaugural high school squad.
To compete at state, a team's roster must consist of a dozen (7 boys/5 girls or 5 boys/7 girls).
"This is a program that is going to thrive," said Poolville coach Holly Stanley. "We have more and more students every year who are interested in the program. The community, school board, and staff have rallied around us and built a new archery range at the high school. It has been such a blessing."
Brock also has its own facility for practice, and McDonald said the parental support has been great.
"We've had eight parents become certified NASP coaches," he said.
As in other sports, there are scholarships to win, ranging to as high as $20,000 in exceptional cases, said Stanley. Though no local winners have been reported, the potential is there, said McDonald.
"I do have one person on our team that has the potential to win, but that all comes down to can they withstand the pressure of that day," he said.
Qualifying teams and individuals will move on to NASP Nationals May 7-9 in Louisville. From there, world competition awaits in Nashville on dates yet to be announced.
However, Hook said an archery program is much more than competing and trying to win championships, nice as they might be. It is a chance for every team member to have something in which they can take pride, be they sharpshooter or beginner.
"The best thing about this program is that it gives that student who may not be the best in sports a chance to excel in a team activity," he said.
Hook added that he believes the program is growing in popularity because it combines team competition with individual challenges.
"I think that because it is both an individual and team activity it really interests the student," Hook said. "The archer competes with others and with themselves."
Also, coaches agree that archery is a sport one can carry with them throughout life. Much like golf, it is a sport for young and old alike.
"Archery is a lifetime skill," said Stanley. "It is the fastest-growing shooting sport in history. Archery is a way of having fun, focusing, and above all achieving a new skill that will last a lifetime."
"It gives them confidence, pride, self-worth, and the ability to be a part of something that they can take with them for a lifetime. Archery is much than just another sport. It's a lifestyle of freedom."