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Print

IHSA’s fish story continues to grow

April 10, 2012 at 02:11 PM

Peoria Journal-Star

Illinois isn’t always on the cutting edge when it comes to trends, but it certainly was with high school bass fishing.

In 2009, our home state was the first in the nation to offer bass fishing as a high school sport. Since then, Tennessee has begun offering it as well, and Kentucky plans to add it in 2012-13. South Carolina also is showing a great deal of interest.

Here, competitive high school bass fishing is thriving.

Passionate coaches like Randy Marchand, who also is the Washington girls basketball coach, and former East Peoria head football coach Mark Propst are enjoying introducing students to a sport they have participated in for years.

Marchand, who has been a tournament fisherman and was the 1984 Illinois B.A.S.S. Federation Angler of the Year, had 20 students come out for the team this year. Only two boats with two students per boat are allowed in state competition.

“When I got done with basketball, we started having meetings, and I had casting practice and a casting contest,” he said. “You can usually tell when someone’s done a lot of bass fishing. Everybody thinks it’s kind of luck and sometimes you have to be lucky, but there is a lot of skill involved here.”

Propst has been an outdoorsman all his life and was very glad to see the state introduce bass fishing as an activity.

“It was long overdue,” he said. “You get a lot of kids who can’t play football or they can’t play basketball, but they can catch a fish. It just gives the kids a different avenue to go. I’d like to see it where we’d get more kids involved, and I’d like to see archery take off, too.”

Participation is up across the state. The first year the sport was offered, 199 schools had bass fishing teams. This year, 232 teams will compete in sectionals April 20.

“You get kids on the team that probably aren’t in sports, a lot of them, and now they’re involved,” Marchand said.

Sectional sites for area teams are at Argyle Lake near Macomb, Banner Marsh near Glasford, Evergreen Lake north of Normal and LaSalle Lake near Seneca.

The state meet is May 4-5 at Carlyle Lake in southern Illinois. Canton is the defending champion.

Though this year has been an exception, weather and a short season sometimes prevent teams from having much interscholastic competition before the state meet.

Propst said East Peoria fished against Notre Dame this spring, and the Mid-Illini will hold a conference meet for the second year in a row Friday at Banner Marsh. All eight M-I schools have bass fishing teams.

Propst does take the team to a few places to practice, where he teaches the students different ways of casting and how to get the fish on the hook and into the boat.

“There’s a finesse to it,” Propst said. “It takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of patience. They don’t always catch a lot of fish, and a lot of kids don’t have the patience to sit on the water for six or seven hours making cast after cast.”

Marchand takes his team out each Wednesday to fish for a couple of hours.

“We go to Eureka Lake, and they like that,” he said. “We went to a pond behind some guy’s house that we know the other day, and we caught tons of bass. They were having a riot.”

Avid outdoorsman Dave Gannaway was the IHSA administrator who pushed for the introduction of the sport. He retired in 2010, but Propst is glad Gannaway had the foresight to get the job done.

“He had the background and likes the outdoors and thought it would be great, and I’m glad he did it,” Propst said. “It’s just opened up a lot of things for the kids. I remember when they first talked about it, I thought it was great. And it’s turned out real well, I think.”

Jane Miller is a Journal Star sports reporter. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 686-3207. Follow her on Twitter at @JaneMillerJS.

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