BUCKHANNON — Local youth might be winning at the video games, but the long-standing tradition of outdoor sportsmanship is losing, the treasurer of the Stonewall Jackson Woodland Tracks chapter of the National Wildlife Turkey Federation said last Saturday.
Kenny Matthews, the coordinator of the annual JAKES Day and treasurer for the Stonewall Jackson Woodland Tracks chapter of NWTF, worries that the traditions of sportsmanship, conservation, responsible environmental stewardship and hunting are dying off as youth spend more and more playing video games and perusing their screens and less time in nature.
Sparking kids’ interest in the outdoors is what JAKES Day — which was held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the field behind the Christian Missionary Alliance Church off the Phillips Dairy Road — is designed to accomplish, Matthews said. JAKES Day stands for Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship, and is also a fitting name for the event because young male turkeys are known as jakes, Matthews said.
“Everything we try to teach kids in this program relates to those letters,” Matthews explained, as groups of youth rotated between a slew of stations, which included wilderness safety, snakes of West Virginia, Camping 101, fish identification, water safety, archery, skeet shooting and air rifle shooting. “We’re trying to help them acquire the knowledge, ethics and sportsmanship (of older generations), and that’s why we bring these agencies and professional people here.
“I would say the two fun things the kids enjoy the most is the air rifle and archery stations,” Matthews added. “I try to bring in the best experts I can from the surrounding area to pass on their knowledge to the youth; you can’t get any better organizations than those that are here today for the kids.”
Since attendance was slightly down this year – only about 51 children and teens attended as compared to 100 in years past – despite Matthews having advertised in newspapers and through the mechanism of Facebook, he plans on trying to reach more kids next year through individual schools in Upshur and Lewis counties.
“The turnout is down a little bit, but that’s just because of competition with soccer that’s starting up and some other events that are going on,” Matthews said.
But a slightly lower turnout hasn’t discouraged Matthews and the rest of the members of the Stonewall Jackson Woodland Tracks chapter, he said, since they ardently believe in their mission.
“We love our NWTF,” Matthews said. “We feel it necessary to pass on the ethics and sportsmanship and the hunting heritage because if we’re not careful, we’re going to lose kids to video games and things like that, so we’re giving them a day – an outdoor event – which will hopefully trigger something that they’ll want to continue. Us older outdoorsmen and sportsmen keep getting older, and we’re wanting to pass traditions on to the younger folks, and a key component of that is our knowledge.”
One of the unique aspects of many of the skills learned and honed at JAKES Day is that succeeding in them doesn’t require outstanding athletic ability, said Russ Warner, head of the archery station at JAKES Day and also the head coach for Buckhannon-Upshur 4-H Archery in Schools program.
“Anybody can do it,” Warner remarked. “You don’t have to be a superior athlete. Any kid, any size, any intellectual ability can do it; it’s just a great program. You don’t have to be a phenomenal athlete to do it.”
Joe Davis, who brought his granddaughter, Vada Enke, 8, to the annual event for the third year in a row, says he believes it’s crucial to keep taking Vada back.
“Children need to be outside,” Davis said, “and here they show them different kinds of fish, snakes and aspects of nature, and it’s a good experience for them. We try to come every year.”
Tina Chewning, mother of 12-year-old Raleigh Chewning, stumbled upon the event while perusing her Facebook feed.
“He (Raleigh) doesn’t get a lot of exposure to hunting and things like that, so I thought this was a good idea to learn about safety and other things like that,” Chewning said.
Skeet shooting was Raleigh’s favorite activity of the day.
“I just really like the excitement of hitting the target,” he said.
The Stonewall Jackson Woodland Tracks chapter of the NWTF would like to thank the Tennerton Lions Club for providing and serving lunch to all attendees.
The NWTF is dedicated to the conservation of the wild turkey and the preservation of the hunting heritage, according to the organization’s website at www.nwtf.org.