In Illinois and Kentucky — and soon possibly Texas — athletes may be gauged by rod and reel rather than the distance of a jump shot or the speed of a 40-yard dash time.
The Texas High School Bass Association released information about a new scholarship effort concerning high school anglers and their collegiate futures July 3. The association's toss of another hat in the proverbial ring, though, may be a boon not only to prep competitive bass fishermen in Ellis County but also to the sport's swelling numbers on the collegiate level.
"To reach out to more students in the form of scholarships, for the 2017-2018 season, we will award the first place team from all 30 open events a $1,000 scholarship," THSBA President Tim Haugh said, via a Facebook post. "We'll still have the optional Boat Captain Side Pot Scholarship — which will be awarded to the either the first or second place team from each event."
Per Haugh, if the optional boat captain side pot is more than $1,000, the first place team will earn the optional Boat Captain side pot scholarship and the second place team will earn the $1,000 guaranteed scholarship.
He added the new method of monetary aid adds to scholarships awarded at the regional and championship events as well as all of the prizes and awards the THSBA gives during each event.
GROWING HIGH SCHOOL DEMOGRAPHICS
There are currently six THSBA divisions, one of which three Ellis County teams call home. Midlothian, Midlothian Heritage and Waxahachie High Schools share West Division space with nearby Cedar Hill Collegiate and Grandview High Schools.
Glen Rose, Kennedale and Mansfield are also division competitiors.
In many ways, the scholarships — which can hand student-athletes a debt-free college education and put anglers in a position to claim big money prizes and national acclaim — have turbocharged the sport's steady rise since Professor Steven Lutz of Indiana University organized the first collegiate bass competition in the country in 1988.
"High school and collegiate competitive fishing are popular and growing fast. Just last year, the THSBA had the state divided into four regions. This year, as a result of the growth, Texas is now divided into six. It's a great opportunity for Ellis County anglers —Waxahachie High School included — whether experienced or not," said Andria Bone, the advisor of the WHS student-led fishing club. "The scholarship opportunities have grown this year, too. The anglers now have the ability to earn a scholarship of at least $1000 at each competition. With the current schedule of five [competitions], each team or individual could take in $5000, and the April regionals and the May high school championship tournaments bring in more scholarship prizes."
Those rewards aren't exclusive to Indian fishers, either. They apply to blossoming athletes in the cities of Avalon, Ennis, Kaufman, Maypearl, Midlothian, Milford, Ovilla, Palmer and Red Oak.
Shari Dawson, the team's co-advisor with Monica Arroyo, said Midlothian Heritage's Jaguar little over 1-year-old Angler Club, too, made strides in changing the perception of the competition from recreation to sport. Her son Mason Dawson and fishermen Garrett McClure, Chip King, Kennedee Slaydon, Colton Ridgeway, and Cody Moore competed against 31 total teams in the 2016 Texas Fallen Heroes Championship.
While Mason and Mclure finished eighth, King and Slaydon ended the tournament in 15th and Ridgeway and More closed the tournament in 21st place. On June 6, boat captain Charley David and Mason won first place and $436 by bagging 13.62 pounds of fish anchored by a 5.97-pound largemouth bass May 27 at Belton Lake in Cedar Creek.
Currently, Illinois and Kentucky are the only states that recognize bass fishing as a sanctioned high school sport. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association moved to recognize the sport on the same level as basketball, football, baseball, softball and other high school sports and allow individual schools to compete for area, regional and state championships in 2012.
Tennessee may be next and Texas, which has an abundance of viable lakes and waterways, could be on the horizon.
BIG PRIZES, BIGGER VALUE
The prize caches in the smaller events can pale in comparison to the ones at the national high school and collegiate levels and may demonstrate the significant leap the sport's made in 29 years.
The Student Angler Federation, which is a division of The Bass Association, held its inaugural High School Fishing World Finals in July 2010 at Lake Dardanelle State Park in Russellville, Arkansas. The field included teams from 20 states competing for more than $30,000 of scholarships in the event.
The SAF tournament was the first of its kind.
As if taking the baton from Lutz, bass fishing has evolved to become one of the fastest spreading sports on the high school, collegiate and recreational circuits.
According to excerpts from a 2016 Gear Patrol article, there were more than 300 active college bass clubs, with at least one in all lower 48 states, in 2012. That year's winner of the YETI Fishing League Worldwide National Collegiate Championship took home a check for $100,000 and a spot in the FLW Cup. The Carhartt Bassmaster High School Championship winners received $4,000 — $2,000 per angler — in scholarship funds from B.A.S.S., as well as $20,000 each in scholarships from Bethel University.
Those finals are now regularly aired on cable TV.
That active college club number doubled in four years. According to SAF records, there were more than 610 teams in 2016. The same year, all nine Pro Bassmaster Elite Series events had a $658,000 purse, with winners taking home $100,000 and every angler placing through 52nd place winning at least $10,000.
Both the prize money and scholarships that open the road and the bass fishing's growing interest may show it's one of the fastest-growing collegiate club sports in the country alongside lacrosse and volleyball. The largest of the three main leagues, the FLW Outdoor Fishing League Worldwide College Series, has over 700 registered bass clubs — up from just 90 a few years ago.
"It's pretty amazing isn't it," Dawson said. "So much has happened in so little time and so many doors and windows are open — and still opening — to our athletes. We had a state championship-qualifying fishing team even though last season was our first full year to fish through the THSBA."
More than 8,000 student anglers competed in 17 annual events during the 2016-17 season. One of those tournaments was the national championship which paid a $29,000 grand prize and awarded an automatic berth in the $100,000 professional Forrest Wood Cup.
Months later, an unprecedented field of 332 North American teams from 33 states and Canada participated in the 2017 High School Fishing World Finals in Florence Alabama’s Pickwick Lake.
At the World Finals, Bethel awarded two $24,000 scholarships, as well as a place on the Bethel Bass Cats fishing team. Bacone College awarded two primary $20,000 scholarships and the college offered two additional $20,000 scholarships to the top two female anglers in the group.
The FLW also awarded $10,000 scholarships during the championships. The Bass Foundation awarded $18,000 in scholarships.
In total, it was more than $156,000 in financial aid to college-bound students.
The THSBA scholarships, as well as those from Shimano's Varsity Program and others like it, have spawned a new generation of athletes that use boats and rods to break into the college scene instead of in more traditional ball-based sports.
FISHER COLLEGES EXIST
There are universities — other than Bethel — that support the fishers, too.
Within the Lone Star State, both Dallas Baptist and East Texas Baptist Universities offer a financial reprieve for anglers. The University of North Texas, as well as Mary Hardin-Simmons, Stephen F. Austin and Tarleton State Universities, Tarrant County College and Texas A&M system universities have teams.
Outside of Texas, Drury (Mo.), Lander (S.C.) and McKendree (Ill.) Universities and the Savannah College of Art and Design (Ga.) offer scholarships.
DBU is where Midlothian High School alumnus Trent Newman, a former second-place finisher in the Texas High School State Bass Fishing Championship, received a bass fishing tuition award — despite the high school lacking a fishing club.
Shari said the scholarships, as well as the national spotlight made brighter on the sport by Newman and pacesetters like him, has the power to unlock gateways previously unreachable by collegiate fishing hopefuls.
“Trent, who is Mason’s inspiration, competed in some fishing leagues and earned a full scholarship. He’s going to graduate and go back to DBU for his Master’s degree, which the university will pay for if he keeps fishing,” Shari said to the Midlothian Mirror in 2016. “Right now, it’s a neat club for kids who aren’t exactly the quarterback of the football team, superstar tennis or basketball player. There might be kids who fly under the radar and not have a lot of ambition in school because they don’t have something (outside of the school) they feel plugged into. It reaches those who may not have been reached otherwise."
---- Marcus S. Marion is the sports editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror. He can be reached by phone at (469) 517-1456 or across social media platforms @MarcusSMarion.