No ‘hole sitting’ at high school fishing finals

Bloomington, Ill. – The Illinois High School Association's popular bass fishing program continues to grow.

There are 238 schools entered for this year's competition, up about a half dozen from last year, said Kurt Gibson, IHSA assistant executive director.

"We want it to continue to grow," Gibson said, noting that, even though the entry deadline has passed, the association would still consider late applications to that end.

And grow it has since the program's inception during the 2008-09 school year.

"I'm not surprised a bit," said Pinckneyville High coach Dennis Heape. "We started our club five years before the IHSA made it a sport. … I heard a lot of people try and tell me that it wouldn't last."

There were some tweaks to this year's tournament, as approved by the IHSA Bass Fishing Advisory Committee in September.

None were bigger than a new rule that clearly states that teams may not benefit from "hole sitting," where non-competitors hold fishing spots or relay information to competitors.

"We're seeing the growth of the event, and we want to make it as close to a professional event as we can," Gibson said. "We have to have some safeguards."

Heape said he was sorry that the rule was necessary.

"I really, truly hope that no one was doing that," Heape said. "I hope that wasn't happening, but if it was, I hope it stops."

Shannon Richey, who coaches the Crab Orchard High team, said that rule is necessary.

"They should have had that the first year," he said. "And now they have to enforce it for it to work."

Richey said he wants the IHSA to put officials on the water to make sure that rule isn't broken.

Another change clarifies that coaches may not fish or even tie on a lure for a competitor. The only exception is they may land a fish for a competitor, if that competitor doesn't have a fishing partner and asks for help.

One change that the advisory committee did not approve would have allowed each school to have four boats; Currently each school is limited to two. Gibson said the committee decided against the change because it's not known what the capacity is for many of the sectionals lakes, and some may be too small for twice as many boats.

There will remain 18 different sectionals sites (two sectionals are held on the Fox Chain), and the sectionals will be held on April 20. One minor change is that Tampier Lake will no longer be a sectional site. Braidwood Lake will take its place, Gibson said.

The sectional assignments are not yet available, but Gibson said they will be released by March 1.

"There aren't any big changes," Gibson said. "In the south suburban area, we had to account for not being at Tampier."

The state championship will be held on May 4-5 on Carlyle Lake.

Gibson said the sport has expanded the appeal of high school athletics in the state.

"It's given us a whole new kind of student," he said.

Gibson said, even with all the growth, there's plenty of room for growth – there are more than 500 high schools in the state.

But some schools are cautious to start a bass fishing club, he said.

"They're just unsure of what goes into bass fishing, and all that's involved," Gibson said. "They want to do it. They want to do it right. But they just have to get their arms around what that means. Asides from that, schools are unsure of the insurance implications," Gibson said.

But he added that statewide the outpouring of donated time and resources has fueled the growth.

"We have many schools where a local bass club, a coach or somebody's dad provides the boat," Gibson said, noting that he thought one school may have purchased its own boat.

Heape said he is pleased with the way the IHSA has handled the program, even if the evolution has been imperfect.

"I know it's a difficult thing to do, no matter what decisions they make," said Heape, a coal worker from Tamaroa. "Somebody is going to be happy and somebody is going to be unhappy [with the sectionals assignments]. But I think they've done a very good job growing the sport."

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