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Illinois hunting and fishing

Competitors return to the dock at Sangchris Lake for the weigh-in during the 2009 Sectional Tournament held at Sangchris Lake. Chris Young/The State Journal-Register.

High schoolers hooked on bass

April 10, 2010 at 01:45 PM

SPRINGFIELD STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER

The Illinois High School Association has hooked more schools to participate in its one-of-a-kind state championship bass-fishing tournament this year.

Eleven central Illinois schools will compete in the sectional tournament April 23 at Lake Sangchris. Top finishers will go on to compete in the state finals at Carlyle Lake May 7-8.

So far, 225 schools are entered, up from 199 in 2009.

“I’m pleased we have 26 more additions,” says Dave Gannaway, Illinois High School Association assistant executive director.

“Schools are financially strapped, and they are trying to figure out how to keep the sports and activities they have.

“It’s not a good time to add activities or sports, so I’m pretty amazed we have this increase.”

A team from Virden made the state finals last spring. This year there are so many interested students at Virden High School that school officials are staging their own tournament to see who gets to compete.

“We are going to have a school qualifier next Saturday (April 17),” says Bruce Paisley, assistant principal and athletic director. “We have eight boats that are interested, so the top two will be our school representatives for the sectional.”

This year, eight or nine boats will vie for the two top spots, up from five last year. The tournament will be held at Otter Lake or Sangchris Lake.

Like archery, bass fishing is targeted at students who may not excel at traditional sports like basketball, football, volleyball or baseball.

“You can’t argue with them,” Paisley says. “We have 27 kids that are interested.”

But schools often need support from local anglers who have boats, equipment and — most important — expertise.

“I’m not a fisherman,” Paisley says. “All I know is that water is wet. If we can get a lot of community involvement, we will be OK.”

Building on 2009

This year, there will be 19 sectional tournaments around the state held simultaneously April 23. The top three finishers at each sectional qualify for the state finals.

Gannaway says a few changes are planned for this year’s championship.

“We’ve increased the roster per boat from three to four students,” he says. “And we will have a shuttle boat that they can coordinate with if they want to bring alternates.”

The shuttle will take anglers to the nearest marina or dock so they can meet up with their teammates with only a minimum amount of fishing time lost in transit.

“Too much running could take time away from fishing time on the water,” Gannaway says. “It could cost up to an hour of fishing time if teams have to come all the way back to the launch point.”

Gannaway says a few other improvements are planned, especially to keep anglers and boat captains safe in the event of inclement weather.

“We are getting radios for every boat — not just cell phones,” he says. “When a storm came up last year (on Friday) we had a good emergency plan, but now we have a better one.”

Gannaway says Illinois was the first state in the nation to hold a state high school bass-fishing championship and retains the distinction of being the only state so far to do so.

“Alabama is looking. Missouri is looking,” he says. “I think that it piqued a lot of interest last year, and I think you are going to see some states start. But financially, it’s not a good year to add anything.

“If we were trying to add bass fishing this year, I’m not sure we could get it done.”

Strong outdoors

Athens High School is earning a reputation as an alternative-sports powerhouse. The school’s archery team finished second in the state and is headed for the national tournament May 7-8 in Louisville, Ky.

Last year’s bass-fishing team qualified for the state tournament — creating a conflict for science teacher Kerry Trueblood, who coaches both squads.

Trueblood says he returns three anglers with experience, including senior Danny Becker and juniors Tyler Ethell and Jacob Clark.

The older students have been fishing as co-anglers in Illinois Bass Federation tournaments. Trueblood also is a member of the IBF.

They’ve also been practice-fishing with him on Lake Petersburg.

“And we’ve had casting contests and tackle talks in study hall — things like that,” he says.

The bass team held a second successful fish fry last winter to raise money to defray expenses.

“We typically have the fish fry before the senior night basketball game,” Trueblood says. “We had a huge night and ran out of fish. We had to turn people away.

“And we made over $1,000 this year, and that helps buy tackle, line and other supplies.”

Trueblood may find himself over-scheduled again as the state bass fishing tournament and archery nationals overlap.

“We have the same dilemma this year with both on the same weekend,” he says. “If one of the bass-fishing teams happen to make it to state, the (high school) principal will have to make the trip to Louisville again.

“And I’m planning to make it to state, so he better get ready.”

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