By Judy Keen, USA TODAY
The Hunger Games book trilogy and movie, featuring a futuristic, bow-wielding heroine named Katniss Everdeen, hooked Elizabeth Kinson, 13, on archery. For Mia Smith, 7, it was the archer Merida in the animated movie Brave.
Mia, who lives in Los Angeles, takes lessons and shoots at summer camp and can't wait until her mother, Courtney Smith, buys her a bow. "I just find it really fun," she says.
Elizabeth, who lives in Burbank, Calif., is "kind of channeling Katniss," says her dad, Darryl Kinson, who also has taken up the sport. "It's pretty empowering," he says.
His daughter says the first time she picked up a bow, "everything felt right. It felt like I was supposed to do this." She's taking lessons and says, "I am willing to dedicate all my life to archery to become the best."
Archery associations, clubs and shops across the nation say the sport is experiencing a surge of interest led by young girls that also includes boys, women and men. They expect even more attention after archery competitions at the Summer Olympic Games in London.
Affiliate clubs of USA Archery, which fields the Olympic team, "are overwhelmed with new archers - especially young women - wanting to try the sport," says USA Archery spokeswoman Teresa Iaconi. The organization doesn't track participation by gender, but she says its youth divisions are now its largest.
Bruce Cull, president of the National Field Archery Assocation, says membership is up about 5% this year, largely driven by younger archers. "Hollywood has had a huge impact on archery," he says. "Young girls see the appeal because they see somebody cool doing it."
Boys enthusiastic, too
Van Webster, director of instruction for the Pasadena Roving Archers, a non-profit California club that offers free lessons for first-timers, says it's a good sport for youngsters because it's safe and easy to learn.
Excelling, though, is a challenge that requires discipline and focus. "To do this you have to have a passion for it," he says. Webster says attendance at Saturday morning lessons has doubled to about 160 since the beginning of the year.
•Interest in archery "just went ballistic" after the Hunger Games movie was released in March, says Terry Pryor, owner of the Archery Custom Shop in Forest Park, Ill. The first book was published in 2008.
More boys are catching the bug, too. They're inspired by Hawkeye, an archer in this year's superhero movie The Avengers, he says. "We've gone from 10 lessons a week to 35," Pryor says, and "foot traffic is a whole lot more than it was."
•Lessons have overtaken tournaments and raffles as the top revenue source for the non-profit New Castle 100 Archers, a Delaware club, says Rick Hahn, a board of directors member.
"Between the Olympics and The Hunger Games, we're really taking off," he says. "In the course of six months, we've gone from a few people a week (taking lessons) to 40-plus."
•J.T. Hatcher, an archery coach at Ripley Middle School in Ripley, W. Va., already is getting calls from parents whose children want a spot on the 6th grade team. Last year, more than 70 students tried out for the school's two teams. "There's more interest all the time," he says.
More girls turning pro
Ginger Morehead, a professional archer who has won several world championships and shooter of the year titles, says "women's personalities are more suited" to the sport because focus and patience are as important as strength and agility. "Females in general are better at sports that involve aiming," she says.
More girls are turning professional in their teens, Morehead says. "I'm getting beat up pretty good this season by several young girls," she says. Professionals compete for cash at events sponsored by archery clubs and associations.
Christiana-Marie Wilburn, 17, started shooting in August 2011 and in February won the Nevada State Tournament sponsored by the National Archery in the Schools program, which promotes target archery nationwide.
"At first I was lucky if I hit the target at all," she says, but practicing with her school team, with a coach and on her own improved her skills. Wilburn, who lives in Las Vegas, hopes to join her college team when she starts school in Austria this fall.
Her advice to rookies: "Don't get discouraged if it doesn't go right the first few times" and learn safety precuations from a pro. "Stick with it," she advises. "I really like the concentration that goes into it."
Elizabeth Kinson doesn't need persuading. "It's fun," she says, "and it makes me feel really powerful."
Copyright 2012 USA TODAY