Vickroy: ‘Hunger’ fans target archery
DONNA VICKROY email@example.com | (708) 633-5982 April 13, 2012 7:24PM
Phoebe Haag, 13, of Crown Point, Ind., picks up her bow for a round of shooting at On Target Archery in Steger, Ill., Tuesday, April 10, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Want to try?
On Target Archery is at 22520 S. State St. in Steger; (708) 758-4868
Various memberships are available, and walk-ins are welcome. Hourly cost for target shooting, including bow and arrow rental, is $18 for adults, $6 for age 15 and under.
Updated: May 16, 2012 8:05AM
When Katniss Everdeen reaches for her bow, lives usually hang in the balance.
Of course, the fictional world in which “The Hunger Games” are played is a million miles from Steger, where young archers at On Target Archery set their sights on paper bull’s-eyes.
But the thrill is pretty much the same, they say.
“The best part is hitting the target right on the bull’s eye,” said 5-year-old Moriah Black, of Dyer, Ind.
“It’s a challenge,” said A.J. Black, Moriah’s cousin, who was visiting from Oklahoma. “The more you practice, the better you get.”
Mike Szafranowski, whose wife, Lisa, owns On Target Archery, said the range has experienced a 15 percent bump in business because of “The Hunger Games.” People started calling after the first book in the trilogy came out a couple of years ago. Now, with the movie drawing big crowds, interest in bow shooting is even more heightened, he said.
“We started this place seven years ago with three kids weekly,” he said. “Now we get about 100 kids a week.”
They call Szafranowski because On Target Archery is “the only place in the area with rental equipment and a range,” he said.
Patrons come from all over the south suburbs, as well as Indiana and even uptown Chicago.
“We get some ladies’ groups that come here. They think it’s like going to another country to come this far south,” he said. “I think that adds to the thrill.”
Szafranowski said archery instills discipline, improves hand-eye coordination and builds confidence.
“It’s one of the few sports that a little girl can do next to her big brother, next to his parent, side by side, all at their own pace,” he said.
Amanda Black, mother of Moriah and her four siblings, said the entire family frequently visits the range for target practice.
Jared Rugen, 16, of Flossmoor, finished all three of Suzanne Collins’ books in two days.
“They’re very good,” he said.
If the real world should ever become like the oppressive Panem, where each year 24 teens are randomly selected to fight to the death for entertainment, would Jared be able to count on his archery skills for survival?
“Hopefully,” he said. “But I think Alex would beat us all.”
Alex Wifler is the best archer around, for miles.
He made the U.S. National Team last year and tried out for the 2012 Olympic team, almost making it. Now, the 18-year-old’s sights are set on the 2016 Games.
He practices six to eight hours a day, six days a week. The challenge for archers, he said, is to be consistent.
“Archery is 90 percent mental, once you get the form down,” Alex said.
Alex, who lives in Crete and is homeschooled, took up archery when he was 11.
“I came here and found out I was pretty good,” he said.
Szafranowski was his first coach. He worked with Alex for hours on end, said Alex’s mom, Chris Wifler.
“Mike is still Alex’s first call after a competition,” Chris said. “They’re very close.”
Alex also read “The Hunger Games” and saw the recently released movie.
“I liked the book better,” he said. “The movie was good, but I didn’t care for the way it was filmed.”
He thinks the movie has breathed new life into his sport.
“There can’t be too much archery in cinema,” he said. “I think the movie definitely made people think about it.”
Phoebe Haag, 13, can identify with the film’s main character, Katniss.
The Crown Point, Ind., teen has been shooting arrows for two years. The hardest part, she said, is pulling back on the string, keeping the arrow steady on the mark.
A.J. Black uses a release to help add power to his shot. The device attaches to his wrist and enables him to pull the arrow back even farther.
“It gives more poundage to your bow,” he said. “Makes it go a little farther and shoot a little straighter.”
After the kids finish their target practice, Szafranowski announces it’s time to aim for moving targets, air-blown pingpong balls and plastic Easter eggs.
Little Moriah hurries to get in line.
“Are you going to take a shot?” Szafranowski asked her.
She shakes her head.
“I’m going to take two shots,” she said.