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National archery competition draws hundreds, including Olympians

They stand in a long line, a sea of pensive faces stretches across a wide green field. Every eye is trained down range at small yellow, red and blue targets.

The giant archery competition being held this weekend at Joyce Park in Hamilton is actually three competitions in one: The U.S. National Target Championships, The U.S. Open and the Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) Nationals. More than 700 people from across the country are competing.

If you want to be nationally ranked, or make it to world or Olympic competition, you must shoot here.

Credit Holly Yurchison / WVXU

USA Archery spokeswoman Teresa Iaconi says the sport's popularity is exploding thanks to the London Olympics and movies like The Hunger Games, Brave and The Avengers.

“It used to be that weird sport you did at camp,” she says. “Now the sport is cool. Now it’s the sport that everyone is trying.”

Iaconi says individual memberships are up 29 percent in six months. USA Archery is using the recent groundswell of interest to shore up its programs and make sure people stick with the sport once the movies go away.

Dana Hilmer's son Zach loves shooting. Their family drove all the way from Madison, Connecticut so he could compete.

“I think he wants to get a sense of how the national competitions are run,” she says. “He has some personal goals he wants to achieve. For him, it’s really the first big tournament, hopefully in his career. He wants to be a nationally ranked archer someday.”

Zach Hilmer practices about an hour a day, five days a week and meets with other kids and a coach for another three hours once a week. USA Archery's Teresa Iaconi says the sport is satisfying for a lot of kids because it's pretty easy to learn.

Credit Holly Yurchison / WVXU

“Kids need a couple arrows and a bow and they can be hitting the middle (of the target)… pretty much immediately on a close target. And that’s why you see such massive youth participation in this event,” says Iaconi.

Another bonus for kids like Zach is getting to meet the superstars of their sport.

Shooting just across the field is Olympic Silver Medalist Brady Ellison.

Credit Holly Yurchison / WVXU
Olympic Silver Medalist Brady Ellison

He got his start in hunting and quickly found he was good at target shooting. Really good. Ellison says he still loves the sport. He makes his living from competitions and sponsorships, so archery isn’t just a passion, it’s his job. He recalls with a laugh, the joy of beating Korea in the semi-finals at the London Olympic Games.

“After shooting the last arrow and knowing that we won and at that point we were going to the gold medal match,” says Ellison. “That’s probably my most favorite memory in the sport so far. And to be able to share it with these two guys was pretty special.”

"These two guys" are fellow Olympians Jake Kaminski and Jacob Wukie. They’re both competing this weekend too.

Wukie has seen the sport change and grow in popularity over the years and he likes the tidal wave of interest being generated by movies and the team’s Olympic success.

“It’s a sport that we really love and we’re glad to have more interest in it and more people participating.”

The national championships wrap up Sunday but with the next Hunger Games movie set for release this fall, there's likely no end in sight for the sport's popularity.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.