Faith Northcutt, 13, first took up archery four years ago because she thought it would be a good challenge. Now, with the popularity of movies like “The Hunger Games,” her challenge is less holding the bow steady and more finding a spot to shoot at the range.
“More people have become interested in archery because of ‘The Hunger Games,’ ” Northcutt said. “It’s my favorite book.”
“The Hunger Games,” the book series phenomenon and hit movie that features a teenage girl, Katniss, who’s a master of bows, arrows, plant identification and general grit, is making kids across the country hungry to learn archery and survival skills, according to Jay McAninch, chief executive and president of the Archery Trade Association, the New Ulm, Minn.-based trade organization for those working in the archery and bowhunting industries.
Northcutt, a student at Independent Middle School, balances her archery with competitive dance and music theater — not to mention schoolwork. She is a member of the Wichita Shooting Stars, the Junior Olympic Archery Development program here, coached by 15-year veteran Dave Taggart.
Taggart said he has seen interest in archery in Wichita skyrocket lately, though he is not sure if it is strictly because of “The Hunger Games.”
“There was talk that it would boost archery,” Taggart said. “It may or may not. I’ve got a little reservations about it myself.”
Regardless, the Shooting Stars has seen high enrollment lately. The club has approximately 150 members, though not all are active at the same time. Most members start by taking archery classes offered by the Wichita Parks and Recreation Department, also taught by Taggart. If students are still interested after the class ends, they can be invited to join the Shooting Stars.
The Shooting Stars has sent its members to national competitions in recent years. In January, Northcutt was invited to the U.S. Olympic Training Camp at USA Archery in Colorado Springs, Colo., to hone her skills.
Northcutt said she hopes to train hard enough to make the U.S. Olympic team when she is older.
“I want to continue shooting, go to nationals this year, and possibly make the Olympic team,” Northcutt said.
For Northcutt, that is no long shot. At nationals last year in Sacramento, she placed third in her age division. To make the Junior Olympic Dream Team, the training program for the Olympics, she has to place first or second in the 14-to-16 age group.
Her father, Jim Northcutt, likes to shoot with her at the range, though he admits he is no Olympian. He said he enjoys coming out to shoot with her and the team.
He also said it is no coincidence the recent spike of interest comes with the popularity of “The Hunger Games.”
“I think there’s probably a tie there, especially among the girls,” Jim Northcutt said. “You would think archery’s a male-dominated sport, but in our club, there’s just as many — if not more — girls than boys.”
Archery requires a lot of self-control and finesse, Taggart said.
“It’s a discipline, and a lot of kids like a little bit of discipline,” he said. “It helps them stay focused.”
Cody Shaver, manager of archery at Wichita’s Gander Mountain, said the store has seen an increase in bow sales this year, especially for youth.
“We have had quite a few kids come in interested in bows,” Shaver said. “We’ve sold a lot more youth bows than we have in previous years.”
It’s a healthy development, said John Bailey, a family practitioner affiliated with Baylor Medical Center at Carrollton, Texas.
Bailey used to teach archery when he was a teen camp counselor. Last year, when his daughter was 6, he bought her a bow and taught her to shoot. He advises pairing archery with cardiovascular exercise for maximum physical benefit.
“Archery is like working out at a gym,” he said. “It will build your upper body strength, improve your tone and help with balance and coordination that may help prevent falls and injuries later in life. But you should also run or do obstacle courses or something that will get the heart rate up.”
Archery also may help with focus that could benefit kids with attention-deficit disorder, he said. “It should help with concentration, which should help with school and social development.”
Wichita is among cities nationwide that have seen increases in archery programs.
“We’ve seen a buzz not only nationwide, but around the world wherever ‘The Hunger Games’ has opened,” said McAninch, of the Archery Trade Association, noting a significant spike in the number of kids approaching national archery organizations.
With similar films on the way — “Brave,” about a princess who is skilled with the bow and arrow, and the second film in the Hunger Games series, due in 2013 — interest may be a long way from peaking.
Faith Northcutt seems to have hit the bulls-eye in her young life, excelling in dance and getting the title in Music Theatre for Young People’s “Annie” last year.
But she said her true home will always be on the range.
“It’s a pretty big part of my life,” Faith Northcutt said. “Everything else just kind of falls together.”
Contributing: Dallas Morning News