NEW YORK – In schools and backyards, for their birthdays and out with their dads, kids are gaga for archery four weeks into the box office run of “The Hunger Games” and less than 100 days before the London Olympics.
“All of a sudden sales of bows have, like, tripled,” said Paul Haines, a salesman at the Ramsey Outdoor store in Paramus, New Jersey.
A manager there made a sign for the hunting department: “Quality bows for serious archers and girls who saw the movie,” he said.
Archery ranges around the country have enjoyed a steady uptick among kids of both sexes since the movie began cleaning up at the box office March 23, though heroine Katniss — a deadly shot with an arrow — seems to resonate more with girls.
“Katniss is so inspiring,” said Gabby Lee, who asked for archery lessons for her 12th birthday in February after reading the wildly popular book trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
“I’m not very sportsy,” she offers, but now she belongs to a youth archery league near her Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, home. “It feels really good because I’m usually the girl who sits and reads.”
While some young archers have been doing it for years, motivated by generations of hunters in their families, the parents of others love it for its focus, independence and because they, too, have kids not drawn to more typical team or contact sports.
At 7, Christa Mattessich is too young for the gruesome dystopian world that thrusts 16-year-old Katniss and her fellow child tributes into the arena for a battle to the death, a battle Katniss wins thanks to the archery skills she honed while hunting game in the woods of her native District 12.
But Christa loves archery just as much and has been shooting for about two years at the same range as Gabby, Targeteers Archery in Saddle Brook, N.J., said dad Anthony Mattessich in Oakland.
“I’m an avid bow hunter,” he said. “At her age, with other sports, they’re just running with each other and chasing a ball, then the ice cream truck comes and that’s that. For archery, they’re a little bit more dedicated.”
Abbey Fitzpatrick in Sandy Creek, New York, turned 11 on April 10. She also asked for and received her own bow and arrows for her birthday. “It’s black. It really looks like Katniss’s bow,” Abbey said. “She was so brave and very heroic in the games.”
Like more than 2 million kids in nearly every state and several other countries, Abbey did archery in gym class this year as part of the decade-old National Archery in the Schools Program that trains teachers in the sport and offers discounts on equipment.
“There’s a lot of buzz among young people about archery right now. They want to shoot bows and arrows so badly they’re willing to follow the rules,” said Roy Grimes, the organization’s president.
In Michigan, enthusiast Robert Jellison teaches seventh-grade science and has incorporated archery through NASP into his lessons on kinetic and potential energy, eye-hand coordination and the properties of pulleys and levers.
Jellison was invited in March with some of his students to perform a demonstration at the local library as part of a “Hunger Games” reading.
“Some of the kids there went out that day and signed up for archery,” he said. “A lot of people look at archery as, ‘Oh, you know, is it a real sport?’ All of a sudden there’s all this excitement.”
Bobbi Bowles owns archery shop K.C.’s Outdoors with her husband in Spicewood, Texas, outside Austin. Sales of equipment have doubled in the last few weeks, she said, and they’re adding beginner classes to accommodate more new recruits young and older.
At the Austin Archery Club, “The movie is sending a lot of people our way who are interested in archery, the crossbow and survival skills,” said a director, Roy Wenmohs. “At a recent tournament we had about 10 young people, from ages 10 to 15,” he said. “About half were new. Last year we had three.”
Games of a different sort are hoping for a “Hunger Games” bump come July, though kids in North America looking to catch Olympic archery will likely be sleeping during live competition.
“We’re thrilled with the awareness and the excitement that ‘The Hunger Games’ has brought to the sport of archery,” said Denise Parker, CEO of USA Archery, the U.S. training and selection body for the Olympics, Paralympics, Pan American Games and other world events.
“We’re already receiving feedback from our youth clubs that interest in archery programs in their areas is up significantly,” she said.
Alexis Fleming, 14, in Manor, Pa., has Olympic dreams. She shot last fall as part of the Junior Olympic Archery Development program after first picking up a bow through 4H.
“I like the fact you can ignore the world around you and just focus on where the arrow is going to go,” she said.
Nicole Donzella, 15, may not be Olympic bound, but she knows her way around a bull’s-eye and plans to DVR archery from London.
Her dad, hunter Bart Donzella, got her started in the sport at age 5, and later her younger sister, leaving “girly girl things” to their mother while he bonded with them through kayaking and other outdoor activities.
“I had a little mini-bow. It was really cute. I shot from five yards back then,” Nicole said.
Now up to 20 yards with a top score of 298 out of 300, she shoots weekly in the same youth league as Gabby at Targeteers in northern New Jersey.
“I like that it’s an individual sport but at the same time there’s other people around you so you can still socialize,” said Nicole, from nearby Fair Lawn. “It’s the only thing I’m good at and it’s really nice to do with my dad.”
She’s a Katniss fan, too. “I like that she’s making archery cool.”
Targeteers owner Rob Cerone said he averages five or six archery birthday parties a month, up from about half that six months ago. He’s filling up early for weeklong summer camps, where he teaches kids how to shoot, make their own arrows and put a bow together.
“The Hunger Games have helped, especially with the girls,” Cerone said.
Richard Johnson in Connecticut has archery in his blood. His dad, Butch Johnson, is hoping to qualify for the London Games and become one of just a few Americans to compete in six Olympiads. He brought home gold in 1996 and team bronze in 2000.
At Hall’s Arrow Indoor Archery Range, where the younger Johnson is business manager, the Katniss bump is alive and well. “We’ve had a lot of parents saying, ‘Hey, little Johnny has seen this movie, what do I have to do to get him into archery?'”
The Johnsons are looking ahead to summer, hoping the profile will be higher for Olympic archery this time around and anticipating the Pixar-produced “Brave.” The fantasy in 3-D computer animation features another young, headstrong archer, Merida, who brings chaos to her kingdom in Scotland.
“We had such a good boost after ‘Hunger Games,'” Richard Johnson said. “The same thing could happen.”