The beauty of archery, Diane Kleinke says, is that it doesn’t discriminate.
“You don’t have to be the tallest, the biggest, the fastest,” said Kleinke, a Stillwater resident and longtime archer. “It’s a sport that everybody can excel at.”
That broad appeal, along with the sport’s soaring popularity and a desire to create a family-oriented environment where archers can practice around the clock prompted Kleinke, her family and several dozen archery enthusiasts to start the Minnesota NorthStar Archery Club, a private organization that opened in Woodbury last November.
The club, situated on Commerce Drive, is home to more than 50 members, all of whom have 24/7 access to shoot at one of 10 targets or fine tune their equipment in the club’s work room.
“There’s such an interest now with young people in archery,” said Kleinke, the club’s executive secretary. “We’re seeing new people come through the doors all the time and then bring their families. It’s been really exciting to see it grow and hopefully, it will continue to do that.”
The motivation to organize the NorthStar club came, in part, from a desire to find a place to practice after the closing last June of a Stillwater archery shop frequented by the Kleinkes and other archers.
The club is now trying to attract even more archers, but may eventually limit memberships to keep the facility accessible, Kleinke said. Members range from newcomers to experienced archers to hunters and professionals who are training for Olympic bids.
“It’s relaxing,” said Doug Jones, of Cottage Grove, a USA Archery coach and one of the club’s founding members. “It’s an outlet that’s different from a video game, that you can do on a Friday or Saturday night with your friends.”
Overall, some 15.8 million Americans participate in the sport, according to a 2013 survey by the Archery Trade Association.
And much of the recent popularity can be explained by the bow-and-arrow heroics of the blockbuster “Hunger Games” books and films.
USA Archery, the sport’s national governing body, reported in November that youth membership had increased 121 percent from the previous year, when an arrow-shooting actress named Jennifer Lawrence appeared in the first “Hunger Games” movie.
The number of women participating more than doubled in that time as well, with individual memberships increasing 84 percent since November 2013.
Televised Olympic competitions and archery programs offered at schools also have exposed youngsters to the sport. Many, in fact, have embraced it as an alternative to more commonly played sports such as baseball, basketball and soccer.
And once children take up archery, Kleinke said, parents often follow.
Kleinke hadn’t shot an arrow since competing in high school while her husband, Jim, hadn’t shot since bow hunting as a youngster. Both reconnected with the sport after their daughter, Elysabeth, 12, asked for a bow for her 10th birthday.
Now the whole family, including daughter Kathryn, 16, is shooting, practicing about four times a week at the club. Elysabeth holds three state archery records, and the family plans vacations around competitions.
“It’s something we can all do,” Diane Kleinke said.
Jones and Diane Kleinke also founded the St. Croix Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) club, a branch of a USA Archery program that is open to archers 8 to 20 years of age and which holds practices at the NorthStar club.
“Just like soccer, basketball or baseball tournaments, there are plenty of [archery] tournament venues for the kids now,” said Jones, a lifelong archer whose son Nathan is competing nationally for a spot in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
NorthStar father-and-son members Bill and Chase Wilson began shooting together at the club soon after it opened.
Chase Wilson, 12, and a St. Croix JOAD member, was drawn to the sport more than a year ago after trying it through a scouting program. He is now a state record holder.
“With this sport, what I love is the two of us are next to each other, practicing and talking,” Bill Wilson said. “It’s connection time.”
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is email@example.com.