The coronavirus pandemic already made the Arkansas National Archery in the Schools Program tournaments – both the February regionals throughout Arkansas and the annual state finals usually staged in Hot Springs the first weekend in March – a virtual affair. Now with a double-whammy of a major winter storm in mid-February, the deadline for qualifying scores from virtual regional tournaments will be delayed a second week, to Wednesday, Feb. 24.
That leaves a quick turnaround for the state tournament to be staged “virtually” on March 2-5, with scores then compiled to determine the best archery teams and shooters in the state in elementary, middle school and high school levels.
“We’re just trying to be as accommodating as we can because everybody has unique circumstances at many schools around the state,” Curtis Gray, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s ANASP coordinator, said.
“We’re trying to make the best we can out of a bad situation.”
The process by which teams advance to state finals remains the same as in previous years. The state is divided into 12 regions. The top two scoring teams from each region move on to the finals, along with the top 12 scores from teams that did not finish first or second in their region, making 36 teams competing in state finals in each of the three divisions. Each team is recording its score in front of a coach or administrator from the school.
Scores are emailed or faxed to Gray, and they are also being entered into a NASP software for virtual shooting. That site is linked at www.agfc.com/ANASP. All scores from the regionals will be available to view on Feb. 25.
“We have tried to make it pretty seamless,” Gray said.
“There’s no way with COVID-19 we could do an in-person regional with all the teams and spectators,” Gray said. “The regionals would have about 2,000-3,000 in attendance at each of 12 locations. And at Hot Springs, we would have several thousand kids and up to 8,000-10,000 spectators.
“In every school district we hope to have a regional education coordinator or someone from the AGFC to present the awards to the teams and individuals after the State Tournament. The kids are getting robbed not being able to be on the stage at Hot Springs to receive their awards, so we hope to still make it special for them.”
Last year’s ANASP state tournament finished just before the pandemic took hold. COVID-19 protocols that went into effect last spring forced the cancellation of the annual Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program tournaments in May and early June, and other events such as the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation’s Commissioners’ Cup high school fishing event went virtual.
The pandemic has also left many schools teaching online. Gray, noting that some protocols may differ from schools 10 miles apart, says there has been little opportunity for in-person archery training since the fall semester began. The good news, though, is that ANASP has drawn significant interest from students even if many were away from campus.
“We typically have 57,000 students participate in ANASP, and 6,000 kids is usually what we have competing in the tournaments, Gray said. “Our numbers this year, we have 3,000 students competing, so we’re about half. I think that’s pretty good considering everything, like virtual school versus in-person instruction. In a COVID year, to come out with half our numbers is exceptional, I think. I was going in scared that we were only going to have around 50 participate.”
Gray, who says he’s a “glass half-full guy,” is hopeful that ANASP will see a return to normal in-person tournaments in 2022, but he says that a virtual tourney will still provide interest and competition, even around a once-in-a-generation winter storm event and more in the forecast.
“It can always be worse,” he said. “If it was going to happen to us, this was the year for it.”