This past spring, Mississippi was home to the third-largest youth archery contest in the world. The Archery in Mississippi Schools State Championship is ranked third behind the National Archery in the Schools National Championship and a youth event that was held in Mongolia.
Next year, AIMS Director Waldo Cleland expects to surpass the Mongolia event. But, it was not that long ago that the fledgling program was looking for schools willing to give AIMS a chance. This school year, just seven years after the first arrow was released, more than 40,000 kids went through the AIMS program.
“It has exceeded every goal we have set for the program,” Cleland said. “Every time I think we have topped out, it seems to just keep climbing and reaching new heights.”
While the program has exceeded its goals, Cleland is not surprised by the popularity of the AIMS program. The key to its growth, he said, is the opportunity it provides to students who may not have been active in other sports or activities at school. Archery is a user-friendly sport, and this is what appeals to many of the students.
“Unlike many sports where you need to be athletic to have success and do well, archery is not that way. It opens doors for kids who want an opportunity to compete,” Cleland said. “There are many AIMS participants who do play other sports, but this program is suitable for all students regardless of athletic ability.”
It is also a sport in which boys and girls compete side by side. In a match, schools take the four highest boys’ scores, four highest girls’ scores, and the next four highest scores regardless of gender to complete their team score. And while those 12 scores are the ones used for the team score, everybody on the team gets to shoot and participate in the match.
“Nobody sits on the bench in this program,” Cleland said. “Everybody gets to shoot. We want all the kids to have a chance and this program is designed to do that.”
In 2006, there were six schools actively involved in AIMS. At the close of the 2012-13 school year, there were 382 and more than 400 are expected to be competing in 2013-14. While the growth of the program has been amazing, Cleland said it is the schools that have really sold the program.
Todd Haygood is the athletic director at Franklin County High School. He has been involved in the AIMS program since 2009 and has witnessed its growth. His first team finished with 18 students, and now he has two teams with more than 70 students involved. He said the impressive part of the program is how it draws from a cross section of the student body.
“I would say 60 to 70 percent of these kids are not participating in anything else,” Haygood said. “And it is not just for kids who enjoy hunting. We have students who do it because they simply like the opportunity to compete against themselves and others.”
Franklin County High School won the Class 3A AIMS State Championship, and the whole community has been supportive of the program. From English teachers to local leaders, the pride in the school’s archery program is growing. Now, football, basketball, and baseball are not the only sports drawing crowds on campus.
“People are really enjoying coming out to watch, and there are more than just parents in the stands,” Haygood said. “We had some meets this year where the place was nearly packed.”
Coaches like Haygood and other volunteers are the driving force behind AIMS, and more are getting involved. Each month there are two courses taught to educators and volunteers to enroll them as certified instructors. With more schools getting on board, the need for these certified instructors is growing, and Cleland said the certification classes have been vital to the success.
“There is no safer sport to compete in than archery and our certified instructors are the ones who ensure that,” Cleland said. “We have had zero injuries since we started, and that is a record we are going to maintain.”
The AIMS State Championship also highlighted the program’s scoring system that allows people to keep up with scoring as the meet progresses. This system was designed specifically for AIMS and was a huge success. Cleland said it took about 7 minutes for scores to be added and available for people to see online.
“We had people all over the place pulling out their cell phones and checking scores,” Cleland said. “The scoring system worked well, and it is another way we can help people feel more involved in the meets.”
As another school year approaches, students through the Magnolia State will be letting arrows fly. The subtle pop of the arrow hitting the target is sweet music for Cleland and the many others who have worked hard to make the AIMS program a success.
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.