By DIRK LAMMERS | Associated Press
YANKTON, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota city with fewer than 15,000 residents is continuing to establish itself as an international archery powerhouse.
Yankton, a Missouri River community in the state's southeast corner, recently beat out Mexico City (population 8.8 million) in its bid to host the 2015 World Youth Championships. The weeklong event next June will draw some 600 competitors from more than 60 countries to the National Field Archery Association center.
Like many of the archery centers popping up around the U.S., the NFAA Easton Yankton Archery Complex is riding a wave of popularity boosted by a string of bow-friendly Hollywood movies. USA Archery has seen a flood of kids picking up bows and arrows looking to emulate their heroes from the “The Hunger Games,” “Brave,” “The Avengers” and “The Lord of the Rings” series.
“We've had some really good shots in the arm there, which is just great exposure,” said Bruce Cull, the association's president and manager of the Yankton complex.
Individual memberships to USA Archery, the sport's governing body in the country, have jumped from about 4,700 in 2011 to nearly 13,000 as of May 31. And participation at national events has nearly doubled from just shy of 2,400 in 2011 to more than 4,400 in 2013, and USA Archery expects the trend to continue when this year's numbers are finalized.
Olympic medalist Khatuna Lorig, who is training in Chula Vista, California, for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro summer games, said archery is a terrific family activity.
“They can shoot and have fun without breaking bones,” she said. “It's a safe sport, and it gives you mental strength, it gives you physical strength and keeps you in shape.”
In 2012, Lorig spent 15 days training actress Jennifer Lawrence for her role in the blockbuster movie “The Hunger Games.” The Olympian said she never expected the movie would become such a phenomenon, and the fictional bow-and-arrow-toting heroine Katniss Everdeen helped give archery a certain cachet with kids.
“It's a cool sport,” Lorig said. “You can survive with a bow. You can defend yourself.”
The Yankton center has hosted other national and world tournaments, and Cull and his staff are currently readying the complex's three field archery courses for the 2014 NFAA Outdoor National Championships set for July 30-Aug. 3. Field archery is a roving game set up much like a golf course, in which targets are shot at varying distances.
But the biennial World Youth Championships, which will be held on the complex's two Olympic-sized fields with 70-meter targets, is one of the sport's top draws. The tournament was last held in the U.S. in 2009 at Ogden, Utah, and Legnica, Poland, and Wuxi, China, have since served as hosts.
Cull, a native of nearby Springfield, said Yankton's status in the archery world began to grow in 2007, when he helped spearhead a state economic development package to encourage the NFAA to move its headquarters from California. Easton, the sports equipment manufacturer, then chose the city for its first archery center, and the Yankton complex now boasts one of just a handful of 90-meter indoor shooting ranges in the nation.
Yankton will spread out to surrounding towns' hotels and campus housing at Mount Marty College and the nearby University of South Dakota in Vermillion to provide enough rooms for the athletes, coaches and families. Many will come early or stay late to visit Mount Rushmore, the Badlands or Sioux Falls, Cull said.
“We're talking about a thousand people, bare minimum, here for about eight days,” he said. “That's going to have a huge impact on the community.”