College freshman Carina Hall joined hundreds of other screaming fans on March 23 for the midnight showing of "The Hunger Games," the blockbuster movie based on the book by Suzanne Collins. Posters from the movie cover the walls of Hall's dorm room at Corban University, and inspired by the story's heroine, Hall signed up to take an archery class this spring.
"I really like the main character, Katniss, and it was really cool to be able to relate to her," Hall said.
The film, which placed third in the nation's top-grossing movies on opening weekend and has earned nearly $400 million so far, tells the story of a group of teens fighting for their lives in a barbaric, Gladiator-style tournament. The female protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is a seasoned archer who uses her talent for both protection and defiance. After experiencing the thrill of watching her own arrow hit its mark, Hall felt every twang of Everdeen's onscreen bow.
"The Hunger Games" is just the latest film to inspire fans to take up a new sport as a way to identify with a character they've come to love. Like "Braveheart" and "The Lord of the Rings," this latest film to feature archery has prompted a renewed interest in the sport. Critics say the fad won't last, but as fans of fantasy game quidditch have proved, some cultural trends have unexpected staying power.
At Corban University in Salem, Ore., professor Dick Richardson offers archery classes in both the spring and fall. Enrollment in the spring semester's class increased by 50 percent. Thanks to Richardson's class, Hall knew exactly how much effort it took Everdeen to be a good archer. And she could even admire the high-quality recurve bow featured in the film. "I wouldn't have been able to do that if I hadn't taken archery," Hall said.
But most importantly, learning how to wield a bow and arrow brought Hall closer to a character she admires as a role model for girls. "I really like how she's a survivor," Hall said of Everdeen.
Across the country, archery clubs and summer camps are reporting an increased interest in archery. Paul Haines, a salesman at the Ramsey Outdoor store in Paramus, New Jersey, told the Associated Press that archery equipment sales have tripled in the last month. And at K.C.'s Outdoors, near Austin, Tex., owner Bobbi Bowles reports a doubling in sales. Bowles and her staff are adding more beginner classes for both children and adults to capitalize on the trend.
But not all archery stores and clubs are riding "The Hunger Games" high. Liz Wurdinger, from Pacific Crest Archery in Salem, Ore., said her sales have not increased since the movie came out. After watching other films inspire archers before, Wurdinger blames the economy, not the movie, for lackluster sales.
"When 'The Lord of the Rings' came out, we did see an increase from young people in the recurve bow," Wurdinger said. Both Legolas, a main character in the fantasy trilogy, and Everdeen use a recurve bow. But few people now have the funds to invest in these bows, which cost between $300 and $500, Wurdinger said.
Skeptics say interest in archery will wane as students learn it's harder than it looks and other movies bump "The Hunger Games" off the box office billboard. But fans can be tenacious, as college intramural sports officials learned when Harry Potter hit the screen. Students' devotion to quidditch, a fictional sport invented by author J.K. Rowling, has prompted some administrators to consider making it an official collegiate sport.
The wizards who play quidditch in Rowling's books fly on brooms to get their quaffle, or ball, through hoops on opposite ends of an open-air arena. Although they still carry brooms with them while they run up and down the field, college students adapted the game for play on the ground.
In 2007, the game's devotees formed the International Quidditch Association (IQA), bringing an organizational system for teams wanting to play other schools. According to the IQA website, Middlebury College played Vassar College in 2007 in the first documented intercollegiate quidditch match. Today, more than 80 teams around the U.S. compete in quidditch tournaments. The IQA also recognizes teams in more than 20 countries.
Sophomore John Lenderts plays for Ball State University's quidditch team, which is currently ranked first in the nation. Formed in 2009, the team includes just 30 devoted players. But more than 60 students tried out for spots, said Lenderts, who previously served as the club's treasurer.
People who hear about the team for the first time usually dismiss it as a group of nerdy people running around on brooms, Lenderts said. But the group takes the sport seriously, practicing three times a week for several hours at a time.
"No one expects us to go as hard or full strength as we do, and when they finally see it they become impressed and are always wanting more," Lenderts said.
Despite its imaginary beginnings, quidditch fans are determined to see it recognized eventually as a real game. Members of the IQA have met with the NCAA about becoming an official collegiate sport, but nothing has been finalized yet, said Lenderts, who notes the quidditch "fad" isn't likely to fade.
"I do believe that this could become a sport before it ever ends," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.