Courtney Cole, a fifth-grader from Smothers Elementary School in the District, is headed to a national archery tournament this weekend. (Tim Sheehan/D.C. Public Schools)

A group of students from the District for the first time have qualified to participate in a national archery competition, taking place in Louisville this weekend.

Students from Lafayette and Smothers elementary schools, as well as Wilson High School and Capitol Hill Montessori, will join more than 12,000 others from 42 states at the three-day competition.

Archery is a growing sport in the District — it was taught at 33 traditional D.C. public schools this year, up from eight in 2009 — and nationwide.

The sport was popularized by the bow-and-arrow-wielding Katniss in the “Hunger Games,” a series of books that were adapted for film. It’s also part of a new trend to introduce students to a wider array of sports that appeal to different interests and ability levels.

“Our motto is you don’t have be tall, strong or fast to be good at archery,” said Roy Grimes, president of the National Archery in the Schools Program, which helps build archery programs and organizes the national competition.

What defines skill for archery is an ability to follow careful, step-by-step instructions and an ability to concentrate. These skills don’t favor certain body types.

“Quite frankly , the young ladies are as good as the young men are,” Grimes said.

Fifth-grader Courtney Cole picked up a bow and arrow for the first time this school year when she joined an archery club at her school, Smothers Elementary, in Northeast.

She took part in a citywide tournament in January and won first place for elementary students, earning a score high enough to qualify for the national competition.

She likes a lot of sports: soccer, basketball, hockey and football.

Archery is different, she said.

“It takes confidence,” she said. “You have to believe in yourself if you really want to hit the bull’s-eye.”