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Kids get a shot at the great outdoors
JAKES Day exposes youngsters to fishing, archery and other healthy activities
Emmalee Green, 6, of Hoschton shoots at a clay disc Saturday with the assistance of Sean Ryan during a skeet shooting activity as part of the annual JAKES Day at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center. JAKES stands for Juniors Achieving Knowledge and Ethics in Sportsmanship. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Today's kids may use their thumbs more than their arms and legs, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't put down the controller for a real bow and arrow or fishing pole.

Saturday's JAKES Day at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in Gainesville gave the video-game generation a chance to get into outdoor fun, like archery, fishing, and even skeet shooting - all for free.

The sponsors, members of the Foothills Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, hope the annual event will get kids off the couch and encourage them to go outside.

"Being sedentary, sitting around in front of an electronic device, doesn't promote good development of muscles," Al Keller, regional director of the National Wild Turkey Federation, said.

The event gets its name from turkey hunting, where a "jake" is a young male turkey. JAKES is an acronym for Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship.

"We want to be able to show the kids the outdoors," Keller said.

It turns out the kids don't mind being pulled from the Xbox for an afternoon. The event has grown from just 34 participants a decade ago to 2,000 last year.

The Walker family of Buford, with their three children, attended JAKES Day for a second year.

"It's a fun way for the kids to get to do something they normally don't," father Rusty Walker said.

Daughter Ella Walker said she liked the "rock climbing, and the fishing is fun, and the bow and arrow is fun, too."

With a volunteer coaching, the 8-year-old tried her hand at the bow and arrow. On one attempt, the arrow just narrowly missed the back of the poster deer.

If the thought of flying arrows and hatchets sounds a little scary, organizers want folks to know that their volunteers are experts who know how to work with kids.

"A lot of thought goes into this event when we do it," said Bobby Aikens, member of the Foothills Chapter.

At the back of the ag center, 6-year-old Emmalee Green got to try her hands at shooting a clay disc with a 20-gauge shotgun, but not without first listening to a shooting safety lesson.

Once outfitted with eye and ear protection, Emmalee was ready to shoot. Volunteer Sean Ryan kneeled next to her, helping her hold the long black gun. As the orange disc went flying, Emmalee pulled the trigger.

"When the threw it, I shot really high," she said afterward, smiling ear-to-ear in her amber safety glasses. Emmalee said that she would like to try shooting again.

At the fishing pools, Quinton Hughley had his eye on a large catfish. He spent several minutes in deep concentration, following the fish around the pool. The 9-year-old had been fishing with his grandfather before, but was always disappointed with his catches.

"They weren't big enough," he said.

When he finally got his fishing noose around a 2-pound catfish, he was pleased: The fish was "way bigger" than what he was used to catching.

Last year, JAKES Day added a rock-climbing wall, and this year a tent allowed kids to get their pictures taken with some wild animals. The Foothills Chapter would like to add horse riding in the future.

Video games are fun, but with outdoor activities, Keller said, kids not only get enjoyment, they get the benefits of exercise without realizing it.

"You're actually exercising compared to sitting down all the time," Keller said. "You're using your body instead of using your fingers to push buttons."

With childhood obesity a growing concern, Keller says that encouraging kids to participate in outdoor activities rather than video games will make them healthier in the long run.

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