High school bass event on the way

Bloomington, Ill. – Illinois’ storied March Madness could be
followed by April or May Madness if things go well with a planned
high school fishing tournament.

The Illinois High School Association’s Board of Directors have
approved adding a bass fishing tournament to its spring 2009
calendar. Known for its tradition-rich high school basketball, the
state is on course to become the first in the nation to sanction
competitive fishing.

In fact, the structure of the bass tournament would likely be
similar to that of the annual “Road to Peoria.”

“We would have sectionals with qualifying all the way to the
state finals,” Dave Gannaway, an IHSA assistant executive director,
said.

Details will be worked out once an advisory committee put
together by Gannaway meets. He expects that committee to be
finalized sometime in late March.

IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman officially brought the
proposal to the board. It had been floated and debated since last
summer.

“The level of support for a bass fishing tournament, from both
our membership and from other non-school groups, has demonstrated
clearly to our board that this event is one with potential
tremendous value to our schools,” Hickman said after a Feb. 12
meeting at which the approval was given.

Gannaway has been assigned the task of structuring the new
sport. Approval of the event did come with one stipulation: the
IHSA board requires that “adequate sponsorships are secured in
advance for the tournament.”

That’s not expected to be a problem. IHSA officials need only
look at the fast-growing college fishing championships to learn how
eager sponsors are to jump on board.

What started in 2006 as a relatively small event – a total of 41
teams participated in the first collegiate championship – doubled
in 2007.

College fishing has gotten so popular that The Bass Federation
recently formed the Association of Collegiate Anglers. The Bass
Federation estimates that nearly 200 schools have, or are in the
process of starting college fishing clubs.

In Illinois, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale has the
Saluki Bassers. There are also clubs at the University of Illinois
at Champaign and Western Illinois University in Macomb.

Those schools compete against the likes of the University of
Iowa, Iowa State University, the University of Wisconsin, Michigan
State University and Ball State University.

Major sponsors have flung to college fishing – boat makers, reel
makers, line makers and lure makers have their names plastered all
over the Association of Collegiate Anglers tournament materials and
Web site.

“First and foremost, we want fishing to be as fun and memorable
of a collegiate experience as anything students can participate in
on campuses today,” Wade Middleton, who organizes college fishing
events for the Bass Federation, said. “Perhaps the biggest
difference in fishing, though, is that just about anyone who has
the desire can get involved in this sport.”

That, too, is one major draw for high school fishing in
Illinois.

“A lot of kids who aren’t athletic are searching for an outlet,”
Chad Morgenthaler, a professional bass angler from Coulterville,
said. Morgenthaler began teaching a class on fishing at a local
high school last year.

“Here we are worried about getting kids interested in outdoors,
watching as numbers of fishermen and hunters decline because of a
lack of interest,” he added. “This idea of high school fishing
could be the solution, or at least one solution.”

Gannaway isn’t ready to talk about the possible offshoots of
IHSA-sanctioned fishing, namely archery, trapshooting or even
hunting.

“One sport at a time,” he said.

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