New Prague’s archery program is an excellent gauge to measure the growth of the sport, both state and nationwide.

The initial club season brought out a total of 28 archers, ranging from fourth- through 12th-graders, to participate in the sport. Eight years later, that same club is averaging about 160 archers per season, with 40 to 50 of those competing in the high school division. There also are elementary and middle divisions.

The club operates in accordance with the National Archery in the Schools Program, which was developed to serve educational and conservation purposes. It was co-created by the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, the state’s department of education and Mathews Archery in 2001.

“NASP is really what you want to make of it,” said Champlin Park coach Barry Boevers, who serves as the organization’s state tournament director. “Some schools are really competitive while others are in just to participate.

“New Prague has a very, very large club. It has a very active program.”

Boys and girls compete together for individual and team archery honors. A team consists of as many as 24 participants. For scoring purposes, the top four boys, top four girls and top four of either gender are used for the team aggregate. A school may have multiple teams compete in the same division.

“I honestly don’t notice the difference,” said Callie Schroeder, a New Prague junior who joined the club as a seventh-grader. “I just look at it as another competitor.”

Schroeder won the girls’ state championship in 2014. She recorded a 296 out of a possible 300, which topped the boys’ highest score.

“That was amazing,” Schroeder said. “I couldn’t stop shaking. Honestly, that was one of the best feelings of my life. Everybody was excited for me.”

Teammate Allison Shorter took top honors with a 293 at the state tournament held in March. Schroeder finished 12th with a 284.

In the first state tournament 11 years ago, “Martha Engwall of Champlin Park won the girls’ state title with a score of 250,” Boevers said. “This year there were five other girls right behind Allison with a 290 or 289.”

Competitors all use a Genesis bow and arrows. They compete at standardized distances of 10 meters and 15 meters.

“The bow is made as a one-size-fits-all, and can be used for any grade level,” New Prague coach John Love said. “The use of this bow also keeps every school on the same level playing field.”

St. Croix Preparatory Academy in Stillwater has won the past five team championships, posting a winning score of 3,380 this past year. That is an average per archer of nearly 282 out of 300.

The charter school also has crowned the past three boys’ champions. Wesley Joarnt successfully defended his state title in the spring with a 296 while Ed Blair was the 2013 champion.

“The skill and competitive nature of NASP has gone exponential,” Boevers said.

Not to mention the interest. The state tournament has recently been held at Champlin Park High School, but will move to Bemidji State University in 2016 because “we’ve outgrown our venue at Champlin Park,” Boevers said.

There were 57 participants (all grade levels) in the initial state tournament. This year’s event brought in 1,313 participants (grades four through 12). There were 204 girls and 203 boys competing in the high school division at the state tournament.

Many have spent the summer practicing and honing their skills for next season.

“It’s a program that will continue to grow,” said St. Croix Prep coach John Slate, who joined the Lions three years ago after making White Bear Lake a state power. “It’s a program that has proven itself and is still fairly new.”