By Taylor Walston
The Archery Place in Montgomery, Illinois, saw a need to help Scouts earn archery merit badges, so its owners did their research. Co-owner Kevin Helwig is a USA Archery Level 3 certified coach and archery merit badge counselor through the Boy Scouts of America. He and his wife, Michelle, crafted a program for earning a merit badge and providing Scouts valuable skills for the range, and for life.
Kevin Helwig is president and founder of the Northern Illinois Archery Organization, which he created six years ago to make archery mobile in an area with more bowhunting than recreational archery. Several park districts soon asked the NIAO to offer recreational archery, in addition to its Junior Olympic Archery Development program.
The NIAO grew so large that the Helwigs opened their archery business in 2017. After teaching lessons and courses, the next logical step was to help Scouts with archery. “Many Scouts don’t go to [Scout] camp for one reason or another, and they shouldn’t be left out from achieving the archery merit badge,” Helwig said.
When Scouts requested a way to earn that badge, Helwig went to work. He wasn’t certified at the time, so he did his homework to learn how he could help. “Many of them required the shooting portion of the badge, because the camp (gets) too full,” Helwig said. “They couldn’t get on the range to complete it, or they didn’t score high enough.”
The Helwigs held their first course in February, and hope to offer it often. Word had quickly spread at meetings with troop leaders, and Cub Scouts pack leaders also caught on. Other Scouts who came to the range for parties also spread the word. The program drew 24 Scouts from five councils in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
“The Three Fires Council we’re in is rather large and densely populated,” Helwig said. “To have five councils participate showed us how information traveled in the Scouting world, and how far of a reach and impact this had.”
Scouts learn range rules, state laws, bow maintenance, and how to make and repair arrows and bowstrings. Helwig also had them shoot their own arrows for their qualifying score, if possible.
Helwig split the program’s tasks with fellow instructors Rodney Morgan and Jim Chelsvig. Morgan and Chelsvig are USA Archery Level 2 instructors, and Morgan is also a certified merit badge counselor. Helwig covered string-making and classroom instruction, Chelsvig demonstrated making and repairing arrows, and Morgan tackled scoring instructions. The program lasted eight hours, including lunch and questions. Some Scouts used arrows they made and proudly took them home.
“My teaching methods are fun,” Helwig said. “I’ve instructed over 6,000 people in archery, and I (have) a 100 percent injury-free record. I like to get to know people, and find ways to connect. Find something fun to discuss, or share common interests and experiences. (Connect) on a personal level so everyone feels comfortable. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing.”
The course doesn’t replace Scout camp. It complements the camp because it can be offered any time, rather than once or twice annually. Helwig and his crew can also help certify Scout leaders up to Level 2 as USA Archery instructors. That should ensure more Scouts earn their archery merit badge, and choose archery as a “preferred” sport.
The Archery Place offers many activities to boost participation, including programs for the Girl Scouts of America. The merit-badge course was created for the Boy Scouts of America, but Girl Scouts can also earn their archery Cadette badge at the range. All Scouts can enjoy archery individually or on troop outings. Scouts who visit for Helwig’s help don’t pay for his services. They only pay for range time and equipment, but Helwig discounts those prices, too.
Helwig said many Scouts and their families return for parties, practice, service and repairs, and to enroll in the other courses. The Archery Place strives to provide a relaxing environment and excellent customer service. Helwig said teaching and learning require both. “If you can’t relate to their fears, you won’t be successful putting a bow in their hands,” he said.
The Helwigs offer everything from lessons, courses and summer camps at 11 park districts. During warm weather they take archery to the masses with their mobile archery range.
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