Most bowhunters would take a hiatus — if not retire — from the sport if they had shoulder surgery. But Jennie Richardson isn't most bowhunters.
The eighth-grade math teacher and softball coach walked into a local pro shop to have her bow rigged with a mouthpiece so she wouldn't miss a single season.
That's when she spotted them — "shiny bows" in the hands of some fellow female archers in the shop. Jennie's interest was immediately piqued, and she began asking questions about this different brand of the sport she loved.
A shop employee encouraged her to pursue target archery; if she was so dedicated to shooting that she would draw with her teeth, she had to get involved in competition.
Jennie received a Mathews Ultra Max for Christmas in 1997 and won her first tournament in January of 1998. She had several more top-three finishes at the semi-pro level, and won shooter of the year in 1998. Jennie moved to the pro class in 1999, and Mathews added Jennie to their professional staff that year.
Soon after, Jennie started working with coach Curtis Beverly who guaranteed she could win a world championship at the professional level. And exactly eight months and 14 days later — in 2000 — she did just that.
Archery in the Schools
While she was racking up tournament wins, Jennie was also finding practical ways to incorporate archery in the classroom. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife took notice and offered her a position as Archery in the Schools Coordinator.
Jennie left her teaching post in 2002 to join the department, and the program eventually evolved into the National Archery in the Schools Program.
She remained with NASP through 2012 and helped train over 3,000 teachers in that time. The program became a "well-oiled machine," according to Jennie, so she directed her efforts to a new endeavor.
The NASP program had generated so much interest, kids were getting turned away from the after-school teams for lack of space and resources. That was the inspiration for S3DA.
Jennie began recruiting coaches and taught them how to set up 3-D ranges and score, then started promoting the new after-school program — Scholastic 3-D Archery.
Jennie said that while NASP creates awareness and provides an in-school introduction to archery, S3DA is a natural progression in the sport and expands members' horizons to competition, scholarship opportunities and bowhunting — plus a lifetime of enjoying the sport.
"This program is about the kids and what the sport can do for them," said Jennie, who serves as the executive director for S3DA. "Some of these kids need archery more than the sport needs them. They get interaction, camaraderie and socialization."
S3DA began with 3-D tournaments and now incorporates indoor and outdoor target archery as well.
S3DA student memberships increased by 145 percent to 1,500 for the 2015-2016 season, and this year that number leaped to 2,980.
"The program has been growing steadily over the last four years," Jennie said. "But it's like it's on steroids the last three months."
S3DA is currently active in 36 states, and an upcoming "super-training" for the Eastern states will help the program expand its reach.
While S3DA is not an in-school initiative, a third of their after-school programs are school-affiliated. But most are clubs hosted by parks, municipalities, archery shops and churches.
Currently the largest S3DA program, Motor City Archers has a membership of approximately 300 kids — in elementary, middle and high school groups — from 20 partnering schools in the Detroit area. Participants have the opportunity to shoot at the historic Detroit Archers club, which was founded by Saxton Pope and Art Young and named Fred Bear as its first president.
S3DA saw a 188-percent increase in the number of clubs for the 2015-2016 season, and the rapid growth doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Although these numbers are impressive, Jennie says S3DA doesn't get too caught up in the statistics. "We just want to provide a good quality program to as many students and parents and families as we can. It's not a numbers game for me. It's about bringing families together. When a kid starts, siblings and other family often come on board within the next three weeks. There's no other sport out there with that type of involvement."
S3DA is reaching more than just the students and parents involved in the program; it's having a positive impact on the communities that host clubs.
"Our original goal was to create an after-school 3-D archery program," said Jennie. "But it's grown into so much more."
Archery shops that run S3DA clubs have reported a 35-50 percent growth in revenue. Kids typically upgrade bows quickly, and the host shops are able to set them — and their families — up with new rigs while recognizing a profit margin on those purchases.
This is turn benefits state agencies through excise taxes, resulting in the unintended benefit of boosting the local economy — a win-win for everyone involved.
Involvement in S3DA also sparks an interest in bowhunting for many kids. The number of members in Indiana who had hunting licenses skyrocketed from 11 percent to 83 percent after the program's first year in the state.
In 2016, 86 percent of S3DA members planned to bowhunt that year, and 45 percent said they own different bows just for hunting.
Many S3DA parents who don't have hunting experience are interested in learning how to guide their kids to bowhunt. S3DA's partnership with organizations like the Pope and Young Club and the Quality Deer Management Association has helped introduce these families to bowhunting.
Jack Frost of Pope and Young connected with S3DA in 2015, and the Club has since become a major supporter of the program. The Pope and Young Club not only provides financial assistance but also contributed a bowhunting chapter to S3DA curriculum that educates members on wildlife conservation, fair chase and ethical hunting practices.
In partnership with QDMA, S3DA is sponsoring the National Archery Youth Hunt for five winning members in November. Hosted at Fred Pape's Victoria Crossing Farm in Kentucky, the four-day whitetail hunt will feature Melissa Bachman of Winchester Deadly Passion on the Sportsman Channel.
S3DA has already partnered with six R3 (Recruitment, Retention, Reactivation) initiatives through state game and wildlife agencies, and Jennie says they hope to work with more hunter education programs in the future.
Jennie and S3DA were recently recognized for their contributions to bowhunting and conservation with the 2017 Pope and Young Club Conservation Award. They've introduced thousands of kids to the sport since 2012 — and have taught them to do it the right way.
To find a club near you or to learn more about S3DA, visit their website.