During the past six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, school routines and extra-curricular activities drastically changed for kids and families. One of the few activities that continued as normal as possible for my daughters, ages 11 and 13, was 4-H. We are a part of a newly created 4-H club, started during COVID-19 upheaval, that has managed to engage kids on a monthly basis with meetings, activities, projects and archery, while following North Dakota 4-H COVID-19 protocols.

4-H shooting sports and specifically for us, barebow archery, is an activity our daughters began actively participating in a few years ago. In past winter and spring seasons, we practiced locally with our club members and then traveled around North Dakota on weekends for in-person matches and competitions of North Dakota 4-H shooting sports. It took time, gas, food and lodging money, but we chalked it up as skills and experiences for our kids and treasured family time. Since November 2020, my husband, Nathan, a certified archery instructor through 4-H and volunteer leader, practiced archery with local 4-H members a few times a month, unsure if we would have any competitions during the COVID-19 pandemic this winter and spring.

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Adrian Biewer, 4-H shooting sports specialist through North Dakota State University Extension’s Center for 4-H Youth Development, shared with me how the pandemic changed the planning and direction of shooting sports this year. They brought back an old idea to make it new again.

Northwood Meadowlarks 4-H archers participate in a virtual competition on March 6, 2021 at the Northwood (N.D.) Community Center. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Northwood Meadowlarks 4-H archers participate in a virtual competition on March 6, 2021 at the Northwood (N.D.) Community Center. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
“Something old can be something new. In 2008, the (virtual) postal match for air rifle was retired due to lack of interest. It was an obvious solution to the new problem of a large group gathering in small spaces and to avoid contact during travel. With some families not working and the business economy depressed, it was also affordable way to participate,” Biewer said. The 2020 air rifle match was held in September with a postal structure and had a 10% increase in participation over past year. “Participants and families quickly realized that the match could be held safely by minimizing travel and participants could complete the match in an efficient manner on their home range.”

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On March 6 and March 21, through North Dakota 4-H Shooting Sports, our local club hosted two virtual matches with nine archers participating in barebow in beginner, junior and senior age categories. Nathan and I were involved locally but we recognize hosting virtual competitions was a lot of work for county Extension offices and the state 4-H staff.

Biewer shared with me, “Postal/Virtual competitions require more communication, coordination and strict deadlines. Administratively, it's much more involved. Especially, when multiple postal matches are conducted within a few weeks of each other. It requires mailing official scoring materials and confirming registration from host site to the home shooting range, coordinating the shooting time in each county, and mailing back by a strict deadline. . . . However, the cost for a facility is eliminated and the time commitment for the host site match volunteers is much reduced.”

As a parent and 4-H volunteer, our kids don’t see the hustle and lift of work it took to make this happen. What I see in the kids is, regardless of in-person or virtual competition, pandemic or not, 4-H archery builds confidence. Kids learn a repetitive task, stand alone at the shooting line and compete with themselves and the target. Overall, archery teaches a lifelong sport and skills kids will use into adulthood. The concentration all types of kids learn standing at a shooting line I think adapts well to any life task needing focus and completion. A county with three or more shooters/ archers in an age division comprises a team that gives kids both individual and team skills.

Statewide in North Dakota, 4-H shooting sports attendance at the face-to-face events in four archery events was 703 and the two postal matches was 715 this year.

Biewer said it is highly likely that some members from 2019 did not participate but the overall attendance is consistent with previous years.

Personally, I am in favor of continuing the virtual competition options for 4-H shooting sports. It allows kids who would not otherwise have the ability to travel around to events to participate. It saves tremendous time and cost savings for families like us who previously traveled to archery events and saves on the expense of renting large facilities and staffing the events for 4-H.

I count 4-H archery virtual competitions as a positive growth area during this difficult time in all of our lives. New 4-H members learned archery skills and competed in a statewide event while staying in their home areas, with limited time investment compared to the travel of past years.

Biewer said 4-H face-to face-events will return in 2022. "The value of active competition with hundreds of peers motivates many of our youth to practice basic life skills, develop a statewide network of friends, and build memories. However, the option of virtual/postal matches will be assessed for the upcoming indoor season. With the virtual/postal option providing more flexibility for families, it may well return long term to the shooting sports program.”

If you are interested in 4-H, contact your local county extension office to find the club for your kids. I recommend the archery opportunities!

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.