One of the faster-growing shooting sports programs in North Dakota is the National Archery in the Schools Program.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department started working with NASP in the mid-2000s, and since then, more than 180 schools have since implemented NASP activities, with more than 10,000 North Dakota students from middle elementary to high school participating

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Most schools in North Dakota that offer NASP include it as part of their physical education curriculum, so all students in certain grade levels are exposed to archery target shooting, just as they are with many other types of PE disciplines.

The Game and Fish Department administers the program in North Dakota and has a grant program set up to help schools with costs for bows, arrows, targets and safety equipment. There is also a national NASP grant program. Together, the two grant programs can help schools defray about half of the initial startup costs for equipment.

All schools that offer NASP instruction in-school through PE or other classroom integration are eligible to send teams to the state tournament. This year, the state event is March 22-23 at the State Fair Center in Minot.

Game and Fish NASP coordinator Jeff Long says he expects 750 to 800 kids at the state tournament bull's-eye competition, which is archery with Olympic-style targets. Many of those same kids also participate in a 3D competition, which is where they shoot at foam animal targets.

The state tournament features team and individual categories in elementary, middle school and high school. The top 10 boys and girls qualify for NASP nationals in Louisville, Ky.

In addition to the state tournament, North Dakota schools held a record 18 in-season tournaments in the past year. The format is much like the state tournament with bull's-eye targets. Schools that have large enough facilities also have included 3D competition.

One reason for the growth of NASP in North Dakota is the North Dakota Youth Archery Advisory Council, an organization of mostly certified instructors who work on their own time to develop initiatives such as a "pin" program to reward young archers for reaching a qualifying score at any tournament, or raise money for scholarships awarded to top finishers at state.

The Game and Fish Department is an advocate for NASP partly because it introduces kids, many of whom have never held a bow before taking the class, to a shooting sport. Just as important is the benefit to the kids, whether they pick up a bow again after the class or not.

Any school that has not yet participated in NASP but may have an interest can contact Long at jrlong@nd.gov, or call (701) 328-6322. All potential coaches go through an eight-hour training course that includes teaching archery properly, as well as a strong safety component, which is one of the reasons NASP participants nationwide have had no accidents in more than 15 years.