Katniss wannabes, inspired by ‘Hunger Games,’ flood archery camps

Petula Dvorak
Columnist July 26, 2012

Friendship bracelets? Volleyball?

No thanks, said tween girls gearing up for summer camps across the land this year.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

“Archery!” they all told their parents, who scrambled for months to find camps where they can learn about nocks, quarrels and the long rod.

“It’s never been like this before; it’s been crazy,” said a besieged Farron Moss, who runs Hoffman Archery in Warrenton. “We’re being called left and right to put on archery camps. So much so that it’s affecting my retail business.”

Last year, eight boys signed up for his class. This summer at one of his camps, he had nine tween girls in his archery store, sitting on the floor in between boxes of arrows, rows of camo gear and a stuffed, impaled bear. They are all braces and lanky legs, sparkly Sketchers shoes and Katniss braids.

“Now, I want you to tell your instructor ‘thank you,’ ladies,” Moss tells them. “He volunteered a lot of time to spend with you this week.”

He spins around and tells me, “See, I had to get extra help it’s been so busy.”

Moss, a burly man, hasn’t read the “The Hunger Games” trilogy or watched the blockbuster movie based on the first book. He hasn’t seen “The Avengers,” and he certainly didn’t go see Disney’s movie about a Scottish clan princess, “Brave,” so he’s unfamiliar with all of these tween heroines who are inspiring the flood of XX chromosomes in his business. But his new students are well versed in the adventures of Katniss Everdeen.

“Oh, I totally read ‘The Hunger Games,’ ” said a 12-year-old girl from Gainesville whose mom was calling camps all over to find one that had archery, at her daughter’s behest.

Prince William County’s Parks and Recreation Department was overwhelmed by calls from parents, all looking for a healthy outlet for their daughters’ sudden interest in bows, arrows and the killing of small and large creatures with the ancient weapons.

The department has several camps throughout Prince William. This was the first year that the department had contracted for a full camp with Hoffman Archery. And don’t forget, it’s not easy to find a place that can accommodate that many arrows flying through the air safely.

Every archery camp for miles around has a waiting list. At traditional summer camps in the Washington area, archery filled up first this year. The Olympic Games in London, which get underway this weekend, could further stoke interest in the sport.

For the Maryland Archery Association, the calls have piled up as well.

“We just did a session for about 150 Girl Scouts,” said Colleen McGowan, the secretary for the archery association, which has been flooded with requests from parents of girls who want to be like Katniss, the trilogy’s protagonist who survives against incredible odds in a post-apocalyptic death match in which children are forced to participate every year.

“They’re all talking about it,” McGowan said, of the dozens of Katniss wannabes that surround her. “Oh yeah, and the braids. The braids are trending, too.”

Katniss was known for her single, asymmetrical braid.

A bookkeeper by day who has been shooting arrows for 29 years, McGowan hopes the Katniss trend keeps this current crop of young archers in the sport. For years, she’s seen kids pick it up in camp and maybe take a class or two, but then interest falls off when it comes times for team sports in high school.

“Maybe now, it’ll help plant the seed that will keep them going,” she said, “if we can help them realize this is a pretty cool thing to do. It builds that self-esteem, teaches them sportsmanship: how to lose, how to win.”

“I feel like I have an edge over my siblings now,” said another 10-year-old archer at Moss’s camp, munching on the pizza he served them between the aisles of weaponry and shooting lessons. She read “The Hunger Games” and immediately wanted to learn. Plus, she wants to go to the Olympics someday.

Any chance you’ve heard of Ruth Rowe?

She went to the Olympics as a competitor in 1984, and the U.S. Olympic Committee named her sportswoman of the year for archery in 1983. Today, she teaches at Bull Run Shooting Center in Centreville, which used to be a relatively quiet job.

Not anymore.

“To give you the picture . . . So far in July I’ve had 26 requests for info about introductions (to archery class) and 23 requests for continuing lessons,” Rowe told me. “These are ones that I haven’t been able to respond to. Don’t know how many I have responded to.”

She is overwhelmed — and delighted — by it.

“Yes, there has been an impact of the movies, and I don’t expect it to go away,” Rowe said. “It may taper off some, but archery is now definitely in the public’s awareness.”

Archery takes tweens far, far out of their texty-sparkly-iPhoney world.

“In most sports, you get yourself hyped up and get your adrenaline going before a competition,” Rowe told The Washington Post in an interview about Olympic sports that kids might want to try. “Archery is the exact opposite. It’s completely internal. You want to be quiet and calm and completely aware within yourself. Most kids have no idea what that’s like. Trying to teach that can be a challenge.”

But McGowan, the instructor from Maryland, said girls are especially easy to teach.

“A boy, a man, always thinks he has a better way of doing things, so he won’t do exactly what you tell [him],” she said. “But girls listen — they want to do it the way they are taught, and they will perfect that.”

Especially when it’s someone else — even a big, burly guy who has no position on the great Peeta versus Gale debate — doing the teaching.

Read previous columns by Petula Dvorak at washingtonpost.com/
dvorak
. You can follow her on Twitter @petulad.

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