HANAHAN — Ella Kokinda wears sparkly flip-flops and ripped jeans. She talks in bursts, waving her hands, as animated as any other 17-year-old.
For more information: dnr.sc.gov/hunting/archery or 1-800-277-4301.
Then she picks up a bow.
The balance steadies and she draws, her whole body quieting to a sculpture. The arrow flies 75 yards and strikes the bull’s eye with a pop.
If there were a face to the flying success of the state wildlife archery program in the schools, it could well be Kokinda. She is the state champ and the second-ranked female in the National Archery in the Schools program nationwide.
And one other thing: She’s a dead ringer for Katniss Everdeen, the bow-and-arrow heroine in “The Hunger Games,” the hit movie that has helped propel the program even further this year.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources-sponsored schools program has more than 26,000 elementary, middle and high school students taking at least some part.
To put that in perspective, high school football statewide has about 20,000 participants.
DNR launched the national program in the state five years ago, on little more than a hope. It was one of a handful of initiatives to win back a video generation of kids to outdoors pursuits, pursuits that had been declining for decades, in South Carolina and across the nation.
Nobody knew if archery could make a difference.
In the program’s first year, 39 schools signed on. Now, more than 275 public and private schools have joined, and the phone keeps ringing, said program coordinator Dennetta Dawson.
“It has to be making some difference. It started as exposure. Now we’re working on managing the success,” said Alvin Taylor, DNR director. “We’re looking to see how it translates to sustaining interest.”
Kokinda, a Bishop England High School senior from Goose Creek, was one of the first to notch an arrow. As a seventh-grader, she picked up a brochure at a church festival and wanted in, even though she never had handled a bow, much less shot one.
Something about the twang of the string, the feathered shaft whistling as it flies — it didn’t take long for Kokinda to launch the program at her middle school.
In her first middle school competition, her glasses kept getting in the way, so she took them off, leaving the target a blur. She placed third.
Now she wants Olympics gold.
“She’s just naturally good. She’s gifted,” said Mike Quayle, her coach, of Hanahan, where Kokinda shoots.
“It’s something that stuck,” Kokinda said. “You’re with yourself, but it’s a test of yourself. It’s just that I knew I didn’t have to rely on anyone but myself. If you make a mistake, you have to fix it yourself.”
Spoken like a champ. For DNR, though, there’s just one small problem: Kokinda doesn’t think she wants to hunt.
“When it comes to nature and the woods and big spiders ...” she shakes her head no, her hands waving off.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.