The zing of arrows flying downrange across statewide school districts is evidence an archery program sponsored by the MDWFP is a huge success. Started in 2005 with only 10 schools signed up, today the AIMS, or Archery in Mississippi Schools, now has about 384 schools in the state participating in the program according to AIMS program director, Waldo Cleland of Columbia.
That name Waldo is probably familiar with a lot of competition archery shooters and bow hunters across the state. Waldo is a well known archery champion in his own rights having been involved in 3-D, indoor target, Olympic style and field archery for many years. His wife, Kim, is also a highly respected archery title winner, as well.
Cleland went professional in 1992 and had top five finishes in all of the major shoots. He has won five national titles and set many records in the National Field Archery Association. Waldo also owned and operated his own archery supply shop in Columbia for years.
The AIMS Program
AIMS was designed to introduce bow and arrow shooting to students in the 4th to 12th grades. The archery shooting course is part of the physical education curriculum within the school systems.
To date there are over 32,000 students involved in the 384 schools signed up for AIMS. Nationally the program has grown to over 4.2 million students. According to Cleland the AIMS program is one of the fastest expanding sports in Mississippi and all across the country.
Students like to participate in the program because it focuses on concentration as in steadying the bow and arrow to shoot accurately. It also fosters plenty of repeat practice so shooters with even marginal talent can eventually learn to shoot very well and expand their competitive base. The other reason students like the AIMS program is because it does not rely on pure athleticism to be successful like traditional team sports.
The Role of the MDWFP
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks Foundation is making the program available to local Mississippi school districts. The Foundation and the MDWFP is putting forth the effort with this program to hopefully attract more Mississippi youth into the out-of-doors.
We definitely need to grow the participation by young people in all of the activities of the great outdoors in Mississippi. Some of these participants may eventually become interested in archery hunting or other outdoors based activities.
Students participating in the AIMS program should also benefit from the program in many other ways including building self-esteem, teamwork, individual skill development, over all enhancement of physical conditioning, and creating a foundation for a lifelong learning and recreational activity.
Implementation of AIMS has been a cooperative effort by the MDWFP, the Foundation, the Mississippi Department of Education and the Mississippi Private School Association. AIMS is active in both public and private elementary, middle schools, junior highs and senior high schools across the state.
Participating schools are purchasing one of the basic AIMS kits to get started. This includes bows, arrows, targets, and a large hanging backdrop that serves as a protective shield behind the targets to protect facilities or background objects. The cost of the “kit” is approximately $2,800.
The kit equipment pack is enough to set up 11 shooting stations that will serve class sizes much larger when using rotational shooting schemes. Trainers from the Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks Foundation will provide a free one-day training program for designated school instructors.
These AIMS instructors will be certified as a level one archery instructor. Each participating school is required to have at least two instructors attend the training seminar. Training seminars are taught at various locations around the state at various times of the year.
Additional information and details on the AIMS program can be found on the wildlife web site at www.mdwfp.com, or www.nasp.org. At the MDWFP offices contact Randy Newman or call (601) 674-0777 or (601) 213-8111.
For all the good reasons mentioned above the AIMS program is something that works. It engages young people in a new and pro-active sport that does not require a contact skill like football or other regular school sports programs. Many students after getting into the program actually discover that archery shooting is fun.
To this end, AIMS’ secondary collateral benefits might mean attraction to other outdoor archery activities like bow hunting. Recruiting more hunters is a positive thing in and of itself. That means more license sales, more gear and equipment sales, and growing appreciation for the outdoors and lifelong participation. All of that spells a positive for Mississippi.
John J. Woods, Ph.D., is vice president in charge of economic development and training, Eagle Ridge Conference and Training Center, the Workforce Development Center and contract training services at Hinds Community College in Raymond.