Alexandria already has a strong high school archery team through the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) that is well established. Now students at a younger age have a chance to take part in the sport.

Alexandria is in its first season offering archery at Discovery Middle School for those in grades 6-8 through NASP. The National Archery in the Schools Program was founded in 2002 and currently offers nearly 18 million students from more than 14,000 schools in 47 states and 11 different countries the chance to learn and excel at target archery.

Kids in the program shoot a Genesis Bow, which is designed to comfortably fit boys and girls of all ages and ability levels. The equipment used in the sport -- bows, arrows, targets -- are often purchased through support from the community the schools represent, and that’s the case locally. Many outdoor groups have stepped up over the years to provide financial support for area programs throughout the area.

That was again the situation in getting Alexandria’s middle school program up and running. Jim Stratton, a member of the Viking Sportsmen group and a coach of the middle school team in Alexandria, said the Viking Sportsmen donated about $4,000 into the junior high program.

That’s helping to provide kids the chance to learn and compete at upcoming tournaments in archery. The team already has 25 members and anyone interested is still able to join this winter.

“With some focused coaching and some determination by the kids, they certainly could join in,” Stratton said. “They don’t have to buy a bow, they don’t have to buy the arrows and target. They just come and have at it. We’ll teach you. That’s the good thing about the archery program, there is no added expense.”

Stratton said he and Al Hansen, a coach on the Alexandria High School team, did not really know what to expect in terms of participation for this first year.

Both boys and girls make up the team, and that’s what so many who help out in archery programs love about this sport. Boys, girls, students with disabilities -- they can all take part and shoot alongside each other on a level playing field.

“This is the first year a lot of them have really gotten into it, and they’re really improving,” Stratton said of the junior high archers. “We can see it from week to week.”

Like in the spring trap-shooting league that has taken off in popularity in Minnesota, students who take part in the archery program learn first and foremost about safety.

“This is the range master. He has a whistle. These are the whistle commands. You will listen to him, and you will respond to him, and there’s no second chances on this,” Stratton said. “They hear that, and they respond to that, so that’s No. 1.”

From there, coaches are working with kids at the junior high age level on all the basic fundamentals of executing a good shot.

“That safety structure they have to follow is part of the 11 steps they go through every shot,” Stratton said. “It’s the stance, it’s the draw, it’s the nock, the hands, the position, it’s the anchor point, the release. It’s all those steps that we go through with each one of them.”

Once the physical side of shooting is learned, coaches also talk to the kids about understanding how important the mental side of archery is for continued success.

Those who shoot through NASP take part in tournaments with sometimes hundreds of other archers and spectators in attendance. Alexandria’s home tournament at AAHS this year where both the high school and junior high programs will shoot is set for March 7.

“The mental side is going to be one of the final things we get into,” Stratton said. “Once they get the mechanics, the physical stuff down, then we can go into the mental side. Talk about, ‘OK, you’re going to be standing next to somebody shooting. They might be really good or really bad, but you shoot your arrow, you reflect on it, you move on. It’s all about you, that bow, that arrow and hitting the target. It’s a mental activity.”

Stratton said kids are starting to see improvement in the program with each practice. Once that consistency comes, so does the enjoyment for the archers.

“When they start to see the improvement, that’s when they really start to have some fun,” Stratton said. “That’s what it’s about. We develop a real interest in what may be a lifelong love for a sport that they can still do when they’re 70.”