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March 22. 2013 11:14PM

Fishing hooks student-athletes


 
How many sanctioned high school sports are there where you can take home the trophy and eat it?

That could be the case later this spring, when the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association holds the first sanctioned event in the sport of bass fishing in state history.

"I guess if the winning fish was big enough, they could do that, couldn't they?" said NHIAA Executive Director Patrick Corbin. "But we would give them a plaque too."

Corbin announced Friday that the inaugural tournament will take place May 9 at Lee's Mills in Moultonborough on Lake Winnipesaukee, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"It's a great location for an event like this," said Doug Hume, chairman of the NHIAA Bass Fishing Committee. "The lake is a busy place, but that is a fairly protected area. We're anticipating a great event, based on the early feedback we're already getting from people."

Each registered NHIAA member school interested in taking part will be allowed one two-angler team to fish from a boat supplied by the NHIAA, and if a school has access to a second approved boat and captain, it can enter a second team. N.H. Bass Nation members will manage the weigh-in, and help pair up schools with available boats and licensed captains to work with the students. Individual medals will be awarded to the largest total catch (four fish maximum) and for the largest large-mouth and largest small-mouth bass caught. Specific information about the tournament can be found at www.nhiaa.org.

The maximum number of teams allowed from any school will be two during this initial trial tournament - in effect an exhibition - but the field could be expanded in future years if enough anglers show an interest.

"This year will be a trial tournament and limited in scope, as we and schools prepare for full implementation during the 2013-2014 academic year," said Corbin.

No one expects new traditions like 'Friday Night Bites' fishing derbies to spring up around the state next school year, but Corbin said interest level in the sport is high.

"Since we first started throwing this idea around last year, just the word on the street about it has generated hundreds of calls to our office," said Corbin. "Everyone wants to know if this is really going to happen. People were excited when we announced we were trying bowling, but it was nothing like this."

Organizers hope a sport like bass fishing will help reel in students who otherwise might not take part in any type of organized high school competitions, and get them hooked on the concept of being part of a team.

"It's very inclusive, which is one of our top goals," said Corbin. "There's not a great cost involved in terms of equipment like some sports."

Corbin said the idea of adding bass fishing as a trial sport came from watching his own grandchildren fish off the dock near his home in Windham.

"I live on a pond, and they can sit out there all day and fish," said Corbin. "I said to my wife, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could add this as a sport? Think about how many kids we could get involved in high school athletics.'"

He said he was nearly laughed out of a council meeting when he suggested it as a NHIAA-sanctioned sport four years ago.

"Then Illinois started it the next year," Corbin said. "That first year they had over 800 kids, and last year it was just under 4,000. The interest in it there has just exploded."

New Hampshire joins the ranks of two other states, Illinois and Kentucky, in sanctioning fishing as a varsity sport. The Missouri high-school athletic association is scheduled to vote on whether to sanction fishing in April.

There are an estimated 10,000 high-school student anglers, according to the Bass Federation, a national organization for fishing enthusiasts.

"Not every kid plays basketball, football or baseball, but there are kids who participate in fishing or hunting," wrote Mitch Smith, events and promotions manager for the Student Angler Federation, in an email. "But there was never an avenue for them. Now they see they have an opportunity to go to college on a fishing scholarship. So it's a really good thing."

Corbin said surveys conducted by the NHIAA show there are more than 1,000 students currently enrolled in districts across the state that would take the bait and join a bass fishing team if offered at their school. Some schools, like John Stark Regional and Bishop Guertin high schools, already have fishing clubs, with more than 40 students involved.

"There are schools wishing we were allowing more teams, because they have kids ready to go on this," said Corbin. "It will be a learning experience, and some things that pop up we didn't think of, but I'm excited about the possibilities here. If we get more kids to try high school sports, it's a success."



pfeely@unionleader.com

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