FOR some children archery is about the fantasy of being a hero but others gain a great deal from its physical and mental benefits.
Two million children worldwide participate in archery and National Archery in Schools Programme (NASP) Eastern Cape representative Billy Teeton says in South Africa "most provinces are represented".
Eastern Cape archery development officer Joey Swart said children often wanted to be like childhood heroes, such as Robin Hood or the characters in Lord of the Rings, and the Olympics also had a great influence this year.
Archery enhances a number of skills, including muscle strength – particularly the upper body and arms, eye-hand coordination, physical and cardio respiratory endurance and balance.
Swart said the sport appealed to children who preferred individual to team sports.
"Irrespective of shape, size or disability, archery is a sport for all. It can be purely for social enjoyment but there is also the competitive side for those who want to compete."
She said there was an increase in the number of Port Elizabeth children participating. There had always been a keen interest among children in the Grahamstown and East London areas where archery had been very visible.
In March this year, the Eastern Cape Archery Association successfully implemented the Feathers and Arrows programme at two Port Elizabeth schools, Cape Recife and Northern Lights, which both also cater for disabled pupils.
The programme is suitable for all and is the official development programme of the South African National Archery Association.
With seven stages, Feathers and Arrows aims to have the novice archer progressing to the formal competition field in a two-year period.
Weekend Post Matric of the Year winner Edward Hoskin, 18, who has Eastern Province and SA colours for target archery, said the sport was "extremely enjoyable" and was a sport of a "different kind".
Qualified archery coach and Cape Recife High School occupational therapist Elisabeth Barry said the school already had 20 to 25 able-bodied and disabled pupils participating.
Barry, who started coaching archery at the beginning of this year, said children learnt to concentrate and to be disciplined.
While there is a growing interest in the sport, it is not everyone who has access to equipment. Cynthia Dondashe, of Lonwabo School for the physically disabled in Missionvale, has been coaching archery since 2002 but the classes at the school were stopped numerous times due to shortage of equipment.
"We don't only have children at the school who want to do archery but also children from the community who show an interest and this number grows every year," Dondashe said.
Northern Lights occupational therapist Sal Bartis said archery had been part of the sport curriculum for more than 10 years. Bartis, who is a qualified national archery classifier, said the school had participated at the Archery World Championships in Korea in 2007.
She said archery helped the children to improve focus and strength.
The Feathers and Arrows programme, which is also part of Eastern Cape Archery's long- term development programme, was designed by the World Archery Federation.
"This programme is a little bit more serious as it takes you from scratch to the competition line. It's really a two-year programme, but if you have a knack for archery, you can complete all seven stages in as little as two months. It's really up to you," Swart said.
"And to make it more interesting, as you progress, you can earn awards which you can pin to your cap or quiver to show the whole world how far you have progressed.
"All our instructors are empowered to award the pins once you have successfully completed the assessment."
Even though archery is on the increase not many schools are willing to invest money in a minority sport.
Swart said "from experience ... the national focus for school funding for sport appears to me mainly directed at mass participation sports".
She said it was often necessary for parents to help get clubs off the ground.
Swart said they particularly wanted to promote archery among physically disabled people able to draw a bow.
The Londt Park Archery Club will be hosting the Londt Park Indoor Championships on November 17 and 18 at the Moffett on Main indoor parking area. Children will have a chance to shoot in a social event.