September 11, 2011

Aimed in the right direction

TOPEKA — Up at 6 a.m. for an hour's drive to a politician's rally isn't an ideal Saturday morning for most 8-year-olds.

TOPEKA — Up at 6 a.m. for an hour's drive to a politician's rally isn't an ideal Saturday morning for most 8-year-olds.

Cayden Harper would have left home earlier and traveled farther Saturday morning if need-be.

"My favorite thing is getting to the range and shooting archery," said Harper, of Kansas City. "I really like shooting arrows."

Harper was one of about 24 kids attending Secretary of State Kris Kobach's Ad Astra Archery Tournament at a Topeka park.

"It's a start," Kobach said of the attendance. "Hopefully these kids will tell their friends and we'll keep growing through the years."

Mixing bows, arrows and kids is nothing new to Kobach. Daughters Lillian, 7, and Reagan, 5, had their own bows at the tournament and showed they knew how to use them.

"We routinely go out in the backyard and the girls shoot their target while mom shoots her target and dad shoots at his target," said Kobach, an avid archer and bowhunter.

Kobach said he held the tournament as a way to elevate the status of youth and archery in Kansas. He hopes it eventually becomes a popular event that unifies such youth archery programs as Kansas Archery in the Schools, 4H archery and Centershot, a Christian-based archery program sponsored by several Kansas churches.

Gary Keehn, Kansas Archery in the Schools state coordinator, said that program has shown tremendous growth since coming to the state about five years ago.

More than 100 schools participate in the program that involves portable indoor archery ranges and youth-sized compound bows often furnished by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism or local civic or conservation groups. This year, more than 10,000 Kansas students participated in the program.

Cayden's mother, Angela Harper, has three kids active in the Centershot program at her family's church. She's become a big supporter.

"I see it as a way for them to learn self-discipline, self-control and develop some self-esteem. A kid who can't run fast or catch a ball as good as others can do this and develop a lot of self-confidence," she said. "Archery, to me, is much more safe than a lot of other things they could be doing."

Safety was a prime consideration at Saturday's shoot. Partcipating kids had to have participated in one of the three programs or get lessons at the park.

Kansas Archery in the Schools furnished much of the equipment. Volunteers carefully watched to make sure arrows were always handled carefully and pointed in safe directions.

Kids kindergarten through high school shot in small groups at regulated distances. Scores were kept and age-group winners won assorted prizes.

After shooting, kids got to participate in games held at displays furnished by Wildlife and Parks, the Marines, National Guard and several businesses.

Kobach presented all who competed at the event with medallions holding the image of Ad Astra, the sculpture of a Native American pointing a drawn bow skyward that sits atop the Kansas capital.

He's hoping the unique symbol will hold more prominence at future tournaments.

"Kansas is the only state in the union with an archer atop its capital building," Kobach said. "Someday I hope to hold this shoot right there on the capital grounds. It would be a great way to celebrate archery in Kansas."

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