MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - On a recent morning, a group of students gathered upstairs in the Buckhorn Middle School gym.
At a teacher's direction, they picked up their bows, sighted and let the arrows fly. With a thwack, the arrows hit their marks - half a dozen targets lined up against a far wall.
This is Buckhorn Archery, part of the National Archery in the Schools program. The program came to Alabama in 2002, when the State Department of Education and Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries partnered to start the physical education course at 16 pilot schools.
Buckhorn Middle School in Madison County joined four years ago. Melanie Coultas, a PE aide, offered to teach it. An archer herself, Coultas says, "I just think it's a terrific program...most kids when they try it, they love it."
After a couple of years, Buckhorn Archery expanded to include high school students. It now includes a three-week physical education course in the schools, as well as an archery team.
Coultas says more than 100 students typically try out. About three-dozen are chosen. Last year, the middle school team placed first in the state. The high school team placed third in Alabama and 15th nationally.
While some people may be surprised to hear archery is being taught in the schools, Coultas says it's a wonderful confidence-booster for the students, a number of whom have never competed athletically before.
Program leaders also say it's safe. All archery teachers in Alabama must complete the same certification process. Students are closely supervised and there are stringent safety regulations in place. Students are taught to line up on a whistle command and may only raise their bows when the teacher has deemed it safe. A net behind the targets catches any arrows that may miss the mark.
However, the students rarely miss. In March, they'll have an opportunity to show off their skills on their home turf, when Buckhorn hosts the regional school archery competition.