CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The whistle blast echoed off the gymnasium's walls.
"OK, squad number one! Get your equipment and go to the line! Bows on toes, and wait for my signal!"
Half a dozen teachers walked forward, lifted brightly colored bows off a rack, took their places next to tubes filled with arrows, rested the lower limbs of their bows on the toes of their shoes, and stood waiting.
A second whistle spurred the teachers to action. As one, they reached down, pulled arrows from the tubes beside each of them, set the arrows on their bows' strings, drew and fired.
Ordinarily in West Virginia's Archery in the Schools program, the teachers blow the whistle and the schools' physical education students obey the commands. But in a recent training session at George Washington High School, teachers became the students.
Several times each year, instructors from the state Division of Natural Resources train new groups of teachers in the basics of archery instruction. Teachers who pass the two-day, 12-hour courses become certified by the National Archery in the Schools organization, and thus become qualified to teach archery to students involved in their schools' AIS programs.
Krista Snodgrass, who administers the program, said it has become so popular the DNR is having trouble scheduling enough training sessions to meet the demand.
"We're at about 300 schools involved in the program in grades K through 12," she said. "To give you an idea how much it has grown, we started in 2004 with just 18 schools."
The program teaches archery to students as part of participating schools' physical education classes. Many schools take the program a step further and establish archery clubs, or even sponsor competitive teams.
"We get calls all the time from phys-ed teachers and principals who want to get programs started in their schools," Snodgrass said. "We try to hold at least four training sessions a year, but to really meet the demand we'd have to hold a couple a month."
Schools with fledgling AIS programs aren't the only ones sending teachers to be certified. Snodgrass said demand is also high from schools with established programs.
"As teachers retire or move to different schools, they have to be replaced, so we train the replacements," she explained.