Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Ohio couple goes to great lengths to help inner city children learn to fish

Dennis Knowles and his wife, Gail Grizzell, are teaching inner city kids to fish. (Photo courtesy Dennis Knowles)

Berea, Ohio — Dennis Knowles and his wife, Gail Grizzell, are lifetime anglers. Grizzell learned at her mother’s knee while Knowles forged his fishing skills under the tutelage of his Uncle Ulysses. Being introduced to early angling adventures by a family member is a time-honored tradition that hooked the two for life.

However, this talented couple came to a painful realization a few years ago that many young people do not have this opportunity, especially kids who look like them. Knowles and Grizzell are African Americans. In statewide Ohio Bass Federation tournaments, most of the faces like theirs belong to their fellow club members in the North Coast Bass Anglers Association (NCBAA) in Cleveland.

In an effort to bring the fishing experience to young people who have no access to the sport, the couple participated in youth fishing events sponsored by the NCBAA. From those efforts, an idea to create their own youth-based fishing activities was born.

“I realized that I really enjoyed this interaction with the kids so I told Gail that we should start our own organization,” said Knowles.

Grizzell agreed wholeheartedly and the couple formed The Fishing Foundation as a non-profit organization in 2010. It took two years of paperwork and preparation before The Fishing Foundation hosted its first event at Rockefeller Pond. The anglers in this initial outing were veterans from the VA Hospital.

“After that experience, we knew we were hooked,” said Knowles. “That’s when we started taking kids fishing.”

Grizzell described another venture that greatly expanded their angling outreach.

“We were working with kids from the East Cleveland school system, and we knew the city had a summer program for them,” she said.

The couple approached the mayor about adding fishing to the summer program and their proposal was wholeheartedly accepted.

Knowles described how they next took their fishing ideas to the city of Cleveland. Fishing was quickly added to many of the rec centers across Cleveland. The rec centers of Cleveland and East Cleveland would provide transportation to fishing events where everything from tackle to lunch was provided by The Fishing Foundation.

“These kids really pulled at your heart strings,” said Grizzell. “I noticed kids were eating half their lunch and putting the rest in their pockets. They told me they were taking their remaining lunch items home to their mothers who were hungry.”

Grizzell set the hook on a quick deal with the kids.

“I told them if they finished their lunch, I would send them home with sandwiches for their mothers.”

Of all the comments from the kids, one was heard more than any other, according to Grizzell.

“We would hear them say, ‘I always wanted to go fishing, but my dad left.’ It was always the dad who left,” said Grizzell as she shook her head.

“You know, we can’t fix their situation, but we can show them what it can be,” said Knowles.

Their experiences with The Fishing Foundation finally led them to co-author their book Learning to Fish: A Step by Step Guide for Beginning Anglers. The book is illustrated by Jamie Sale with characters who resemble the youngsters from Cleveland and East Cleveland who attend the events sponsored by The Fishing Foundation.

One young man who made a lasting impression on Knowles recently contacted him about the new book.

“This kid came walking down the hill to where I was loading the truck after one of our fishing events,” he said. “I was hot, tired, and just wanted to go home when this kid says, ‘Can I help?’ ”

Dennis told the boy he didn’t need any help.

“It reminded me of that old commercial with Mean Joe Green where he’s limping through the tunnel to the locker room and the kid gives him a Coke,” laughed Knowles.

He quickly changed his mind and accepted the youngster’s offer to help. The boy explained that he had wanted to fish the event, but he missed it. Because he spent so much time at the pond, the boy told Knowles that his mother had taken his fishing rod and snapped it in half because he fished too much.

When he finished helping Knowles, the boy left with a new fishing outfit. Knowles followed up the gift with a visit to the boy’s mother to make sure she knew where her son had acquired a new fishing rod.

The family left the Cleveland area soon afterward but not before the boy had become one of The Foundation’s core volunteers. When the phone call from this young man whose name is King Wells reached Knowles, it was more than a congratulatory message. It was a validation of their efforts.

In their book, Learn to Fish, the authors pay homage to the family members who took them fishing. Knowles’ Uncle Ulysses appears in the book providing insightful sidebars full of fishing tips. When a reader sees a similar sidebar from Miss Margaret, they will be hearing from Grizzell’s mother. For information, the couple may be reached online at www.thefishingfoundation.org.

When asked about where The Fishing Foundation is now headed as it enters its second decade, the couple outlined a very ambitious plan still in a very preliminary stage. They want to create a fishing camp complete with a lake full of fish. The couple admits that such a project may seem like “a project too far,” but the longer they described the idea, the more it seemed to be only a few casts away.

This retired couple from Berea could easily hit the rocking chairs at their modest lake house located on Portage Lake. Instead, they have chosen to do the most for children who have the least.

Somebody once said, “there’s no such thing as a bad boy, there’s just a shortage of fishing poles.” Dennis Knowles and Gail Grizzell are doing their utmost to correct that situation.

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