DALLAS — Zack Kocurek credits “Robin Hood” for getting him interested in archery four years ago, long before he read “The Hunger Games.” Still, the 14-year-old from Plano, Texas, likes the way the books and hit movie have made his favorite sport cool.
“It’s kind of fun bragging about your best shots,” he says at the Texas Archery Club in Plano, where he takes lessons and participates in Junior Olympic Archery Development. “I also love that I don’t have technology helping me. It makes me feel more self-reliant.”
“Hunger Games,” the book 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, CEO and president of the Archery Trade Association, the New Ulm, Minn.-based trade organization for those working in the archery and bowhunting industries.
“We’ve seen a buzz not only nationwide, but around the world wherever ‘The Hunger Games’ has opened,” he says, noting a significant spike in the number of kids approaching national archery organizations such as the Colorado-based USA Archery, which selects and trains U.S. competitors for the Olympic Games, and regional programs, including the National Archery in the Schools Program offered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
It’s a healthy development, says Dr. 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 a gym,” he says. “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 may also help with focus that could benefit kids with attention-deficit disorder, he says. “It should help with concentration, which should help with school and social development.”
With similar films on the way — “Brave,” about a princess who is skilled with the bow and arrow, is scheduled for June, and the second film in the Hunger Games series is due in 2013 — interest may be a long way from peaking.
The timing could not have been better for Clint Montgomery and Tony Fontana, the executive directors of the nonprofit academy where Zack practices. They say they worried at first how they would fill the new 30,000-square-foot indoor space they opened in August to complement their outdoor range in Elm Fork in Dallas.
Instead, they’ve found a steady stream of kids and adult customers and have already hosted girls’ “Hunger Games”-themed birthday parties.
They’re now developing archery programs for local community parks and recreation areas.
The Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas have also responded to the heightened interest. The group crafted a “Hunger Games” program for its Camp Rocky Point in July that’s open to all seventh- through 12th-grade girls. It features a nonviolent focus on archery, self-defense, first aid, plant identification, fire-building, fishing, teamwork and making bread, butter and jam.
Mark Suter has been teaching wilderness survival classes for the last four years, featuring everything from bow-and-arrow making to building shelters to finding and purifying water. He, too, has seen an uptick in interest since “The Hunger Games” showed how the ability to distinguish edible from poisonous plants can make the difference between life and death.
“The plant classes, especially, are pretty big,” says Suter.
Suter is writing “Edible Wild Plants of Texas,” a self-published guide due this summer that sounds like a Texas version of the book that Katniss works on in the novel (not a scene you see in the movie).
Suter’s book points out what’s safe and what isn’t along with the nutritional value of particular plants. He notes that wild clover has a lot of protein, wild violets are high in vitamin A and pine needle tea yields far more vitamin C than orange juice.
As someone who has been researching and reveling in wild plants for so long, he’s happy to see the rest of the world catch up to what thrills him.
“It’s just good for the body to be out in nature and to be part of it. That’s the way people were meant to be,” Suter says.
Zack feels the same way. A longtime Boy Scout who built archery stands and ground quivers and hosted a fun shoot for the archery facility as his Eagle project, he is training to take his archery to the next level — using it to hunt as Katniss does.
“I just like being out in the sun,” he says. “I like using a knife, making fires, getting more in touch with nature, knowing I can survive and do things by myself and with my friends.”
© 2012 The Dallas Morning News