CHARLESTON, Tenn. - Five pairs of eyes peer 10 yards downrange at targets they hope to bull's-eye with the points of feathered shafts.
Sharp twangs are followed by louder thumps if the arrows drill the colored rings on archery targets in the Charleston Elementary School gymnasium, where Bradley County Schools' first archery class is being taught.
It's just a few days into physical education teacher Shane Evans' two-week session for the school's fourth- and fifth-grade archery classes, and most of the nearly 40 students participating say they love shooting.
"I think it's a great activity," 11-year-old Lyndsey Cross said after nailing the 8-inch-wide yellow bull's-eye with one of her five arrows.
She even practices at home shooting against her brother.
"It helps me practice for hunting. I hunt mostly with my papaw and my dad," she said. "I think it's just all fun."
Bradley County Schools is piloting the archery class in Charleston thanks to $3,000 in equipment grants from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Easton Aluminum and help from the Bradley County Wild Turkey Federation, Evans said. The school board gave its approval after assurances of student safety, he said.
ARCHERY IN SCHOOLS
The class at Charleston Elementary School is part of the National Archery in Schools Program tailored to focus on the International Style Target Archery for grades 4-12. In Tennessee, the Tennessee Department of Wildlife Resources conducts tournaments and provides instructor training. More than 170 schools across Tennessee participate in the program.
While archery is a first in Bradley, Evans said counties including Bledsoe, Meigs and Van Buren have established archery programs and competitive teams that often earn bids to the state competition in Murfreesboro.
The program stems from national and state programs that provide training and funding for school archery programs.
Evans prowls behind the shooters to make sure they're being safe and uses a whistle to signal them through the multistep shooting process. He and Charleston Elementary Principal Jodie Grannan attended special instructor training in order to conduct the class.
Students in the class are "excited to come to school," Grannan said. "In the end, I hope they have more confidence and have something they're good at at school."
"I can tell there's been a lot of pre-training before they ever put their hands on the bows," said Bradley County Elementary Education supervisor Sheena Newman, who was nervously watching one of the classes for the first time. "It looks organized and very systematic."
Newman helped Evans pitch the idea to school board members as an alternative that can attract students who might not excel at sports such as basketball, football or track.
The first concern was safety, said Newman, whose father was a hunter.
"I love it," fifth-grader Spencer Wilson, 11, said of archery. He even admitted "it helps you in math class when you have to count points."
The new skill might give Spencer and his father something to share, he said.
"He does a lot of bow hunting, and I'll probably start going with him," Spencer said.