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Will Elliott’s Outdoors: Program for deaf is on target

“It’s the only one in the state and may be the only one in the country,” said Jim Carmody about deaf kids involved in the National Archery in Schools Program (NASP) setup at St. Mary’s School of the Deaf on Main Street in Buffalo.

Now in its fifth year of instruction, the NASP event draws deaf middle and high school students from Buffalo and Western New York for archery instruction that helps kids enjoy the fun and self-improvement that comes with safe, efficient archery shooting.

“Some even get into hunting but most are just kids that want to get better at it,” Carmody said Wednesday afternoon during two sessions of instruction in a wing of the school that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

For this archery instruction a former wing of a dormitory was opened so that a safe range area could be set up for instruction and shooting. It is just that. Special accommodations are made for deaf kids to safely handle archery equipment. Grants from NASP and the Department of Environmental Conservation supply equipment for shooting conventional and crossbows on the range.

Melissa Bailey arrived from Albany with additional gear to assist in Carmody’s program and volunteer Paul Janis assisted in getting gear in place and making sure all went smoothly. It did.

Carmody, an 18-year veteran of deaf instruction, has an affinity with young bow shooters and hunters. A hunter himself, he does some archery hunting at home in Delevan during his hours away from instruction. He also has a keen attachment to kids learning about bow shooting with just visual cues.

“Most ranges have whistles or other sounds to prompt shooters online about when to get the bow, shoot and retrieve/get the arrows, but we have a light system,” Carmody said of a special display that prompts with lights during each stage of the shoot.

To make things even safer, Carmody employs a kind of athletic-type flagging system akin to penalty flags thrown during competitions. He keeps a bright, red flag in his belt and it is a standing rule among all students – fully or partially deaf – that when the flag is thrown some sort of emergency exists and all activities cease immediately.

“It’s always a good day when I don’t have to throw this flag,” he said while both classes went through their stages of instruction.

For both classes kids are taken through 11 steps for archery shooting success. From the importance of a correct, comfortable stance to the “Follow-Through/Reflect” stages, each step is explained so that the young shooters have an awareness of both safety on the range and improved proficiency when shooting their bow.

The first class, made up of 14 middle school students, had yet to get to a bow-in-hand stage of shooting. Instead, Carmody has each kid carry his or her own bow string in hand as he has them focus on the various phases of bow shooting: stance, nock (putting string into the base of the arrow), setting one’s bow and draw hand, pre-draw, draw, anchoring the release fingers, aim, shot setup, release and finally the follow-through that includes reflecting on how well or poorly that shot was taken.

All these steps seem involved, but many a seasoned bow shooter who missed that prize buck or doe might benefit from rethinking (reflecting) on how to draw, hold that elbow when anchoring, releasing so the bow does the shooting and all other hand-eye coordinations to help improve accuracy.

The second class, comprised of 19 high school students, went on the range, got bows and practiced stances, including a line straddling that ensures each shooter safely handles bows and arrows in hand and avoids retrieving arrows or other gear that may drop onto the range. Basics prevailed.

Shooters put quite a few arrows in the red centers of the two targets and many a wide smile/grin showed with either straight shots taken and mean misses made. At the end of these sessions no flags were thrown and it was obvious that each kid would be back for the next class.

Bailey founded the New York State involvement in this national program in 2008 and now lists more than 150 centralized systems providing archery instruction in about 230 schools around the state from Jamestown to Staten Island.

Athletic instructors, administrators and teachers with archery-education certification can check with Melissa Bailey through the DEC Sportsmen’s Education Program at (315) 793-2515 or email: mrb323@cornell.edu.

email: odrswill@gmail.com