Throwing atlatl is more than a sport

July 07, 2002|by Liz Boch

Family was the tie that bound many of the hundreds of people throwing atlatls Saturday during Primitive Weekend at Fort Loudon, said co-host Sharon Keefer.

"Family and friends are the most important thing," she said. "It keeps us going."

Atlatl throwing has become a popular sport for people from all walks of life, Keefer said.

An atlatl is a spearlike weapon with origins dating back more than 20,000 years. Native Americans used it to hunt boar, fish and deer.

Keefer and her husband, Terry, have hosted the weekend event since 1997, after Terry was introduced to the atlatl at an artifacts show. They are both members of the World Atlatl Association.


"It started as a personal thing and broadened," Terry said.

The International Standard Accuracy Contest requires the thrower to hit a bull's-eye five times from 15 meters and another five times from 20 meters. The best score wins.

Throwers range from 8 years old to 87, Terry said.

"It's created a following of people that go to each competition trying to improve their scores," he said.

Atlatl carver Bob Berg quit his job as a furniture maker to produce atlatls full-time.

"I realized I was making less furniture and more atlatls," he said. "I was making computer desks. There's no fun in that. This is fun to play with."

Berg said that, depending on the detail of the instrument, an atlatl can take up to a day to complete.

Young competitors said involving kids in the sport is the best way to teach history and keep the game alive.

Jon Rowe, 17, said he is still having fun after throwing for three years.

"It keeps me out of trouble. I'll keep doing it until I can't do it anymore," he said.

"It's seeing the people here; they're like family. That's the best thing."

Cody Herrmann said she feels special participating in something most people her age don't even know about.

"That's the appeal," said Herrmann, 15. "Most of the time when you mention atlatl, people will say, 'What are you talking about?' This way, I'm not just a field hockey player or something."

Several vendors showcased local artifacts at booths along the edges of the field. Gene Niswander, a Franklin County, Pa., historian, said grasping children's' attention attracted him to the competition.

"They are our next generation and should learn their past," he said.

Some of his artifacts date back more than 10,000 years. The most popular ones include arrowheads, tomahawks, pipes, bowls and grinding tools.

"I like to find knives because they used them to skin fish and hunt buffalo," he said. "Some artifacts are worth $2,000."

The atlatl has attracted so many people a secret atlatl society exists, Berg said. The Secret Ear of Corn Ooga Booga Society is headed by about two dozen chiefs presiding over 10,000 members who wear ceremonial costumes to meetings.

Member Mark Bracken said that, after 2,400 years, the society carries on.

"It's truly a family thing. Mom and Dad drive 10 hours in their cars with their 12-year-olds to compete," he said.

Tesha Keefer, Terry and Sharon's 14-year-old daughter, said it is not just the family atmosphere of atlatl throwing she enjoys.

"This has a purpose, unlike basketball and those sports," she said. "This is something Indians lived by. It's nice to be a part of that."

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