Easton Grant Helps Build Olympic-Style, Family-Friendly Archery Program in Florida – By: Perry Smith

When Don Jackson started teaching at the Lekatchka Archery Club at Knights Trail Park in Nokomis, Fla. about five years ago, it was a small group of hunters who used to tool up for a fall hunt.  Now, thanks to help from an Easton Sports Development Foundation grant, the club has become an established practice facility for archers of all ages — and it recently produced its first championship archer.

“Because of Easton, we’ve taken a club that was basically a hunters’ club and we’ve now opened it up to a whole new type of archery,” said Jackson, who’s on the board of directors for the 50-acre training facility named after the Seminole term for “Broken Arrow.”  It’s also helped him with one of his favorite aspects of the sport, which is watching entire families spend the day at the Lekatchka ranges.

After applying for a grant from the Easton Foundations, Jackson said the club received about $4,000 in equipment from the organization to expand the archery center at the public park, with equipment that allowed participants of all ages to practice Olympic-style archery.

“So now, all of a sudden, we have all of this foam and all of these targets,” Jackson said, “and it’s opened up a whole new avenue for the kids.”

After participating in classes and practicing at Lekatchka, Sophie Shepherd, an 11-year-old from Venice, Fla., came in first in the 2013 Sunshine State Games in the Female Olympic Recurve competition.

The program at Lekatchka has slowly gathered steam over the last five years, starting as an email group, Jackson said. But it really took off after the park began to offer an Introduction to Archery course.  “We started an email program and we soon learned there was a lot of interest in family archery,” he said. “And all of a sudden, we had bunch of kids out there.”

There are more than 600 members on the club’s email group, he said, and more than 120 regular members, who enjoy the free lesson in the volunteer-run program.  The park thrives and is able to offer free services — there’s a small fee, about $5, if a family member would like to have lunch at the range — due to the help of countless volunteers and donations, Jackson said. In addition to other board members who give their time, and community members who donate, Easton’s eight recurve bows have been a big help, he said. The equipment, and those willing to undergo training instruction for archers, have helped fairly new enthusiasts like Don Jackson grow the sport, but there’s also been help from the media, Jackson said.  Jackson, who grew up watching hockey in Canada, but retired after selling his Ohio industrial water treatment company back in 2007, said the recent “Hunger Games” series prompted a boost in the group’s popularity, and an uptick in attendance in his introductory class.  “I think basically the movies played a factor,” Jackson said, noting that the Jennifer Lawrence films are giving archery “a new in amongst the kids.”  “You see a snowball effect,” as he calls it.

Anything that helps get families together on the range is a positive for Jackson, who stays involved with the club because he enjoys sharing his newfound bow-and-arrow passion, and watching the popularity of the sport grow.  Sometimes, parents become encouraged when they learn that there are scholarship possibilities for children who excel in the sport, he said.  “I let them do what they want when they start archery,” Jackson says, noting that many of the younger enthusiasts enjoy starting out with the center’s simulated hunting range with 3D foam targets and a compound bow.  And then he’ll offer an introduction to the Olympic version.  “If these kids are good, they can get scholarships in archery, and if they want to do that they’re going to have to learn the recurve bow,” Jackson said.

“(The students) will do that, and once they do they usually stay with the recurve,” he said, “and don’t bother going back to the compound bow.”