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Heidi-Mari Lues wasn’t good at sports. She tried several, but nothing stuck. Then, a little more than a year ago, she picked up a bow and arrow.

“I just got really good really fast,” the 17-year-old said.

Now, Lues is representing her home country of South Africa at the World Tournament for the National Archery in the Schools Program at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.

The program is an in-school curriculum for students in grades four to 12. More than 2 million students and 12,219 schools — 540 in Wisconsin — participate. Lues is one of more than 3,000 archers competing.

South Africa’s team manager, Charl Rabie, said the team almost wasn’t able to come, thanks to a new law in the U.S. regarding minors traveling internationally.

The law requires underage children entering the country to have either both parents with them or have a birth certificate with both parents’ names listed on it. The team wasn’t notified about the law until weeks before the competition.

“In South Africa, only one parent’s name is listed usually,” Rabie explained. “It took a lot of work to get all the paperwork in at the last minute.”

Rabie said that they didn’t get the last visa until Monday night; the team flew out Tuesday morning.

Mongolia and the United Kingdom weren’t so lucky. Both teams were planning on coming, but neither could obtain visas in time.

While it is a world tournament, only archers from the United States, Canada and South Africa are competing this year. Archers from Namibia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Australia and Botswana qualified but couldn’t afford the trip.

NASP vice president Kevin Dixon anticipates many more countries participating next year.

“The program is growing so rapidly,” Dixon said. “We started as a small thing in Kentucky, and in the last year we had 2.15 million students participating in the program.”

NASP president Roy Grimes said that they started the program in 2002 with the help of Kentucky’s Department of Natural Resources and Department of Education as Kentucky Archery in the Schools.

Then, the group’s only goal was to have a class in each county in Kentucky. But word of the program spread like wildfire in other states. By the end of the first year, the group changed its name and by 2005, 25 states had joined.

“It’s part of school curriculum, so it gives students something that excites them about going to school,” Grimes said. “It’s fun for the students to learn about archery and get to practice it.”

Lues said the team had to get creative with practicing prior to the competition, both at home and in Madison. The team couldn’t transport its target stands, so members linked sponges together with duct tape and affixed the target to their makeshift stand in the field behind their hotel.

“We do funny things when we can’t practice normally,” Lues said. “I usually shoot in a parking garage under my dad’s business. Don’t worry, though, I don’t miss.”

Lues said another one of her teammates practices by shooting down the hallway in her family’s house.

Twelve-year-old Dihan Cloete, another member of the South African team and the team’s junior champion, said he has a more traditional shooting range. He’s used it to practice five hours a day, six days a week in preparation for the tournament.

“We’re definitely ready to compete,” Rabie said. “This is the best team we could have.”

In years past, the archers would have competed as individuals. However, Grimes said that they’ve added a category for teams this year.

In the first three days of competition — Friday through Sunday — all of the archers who qualified for the world tournament compete individually.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the top 16 archers from each country will compete as a team.

“There was this kid the other day that had us in tears when he was telling us about how he used to want to beat this other kid, but now he’ll be cheering for them, because they’ll be teammates,” Grimes said.

“It’s really amazing what these kids are doing.”

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