Jessamine County

Area schools consider fielding teams for bass fishing

A number of area school districts say they are considering the possibility of fielding teams to participate in the new bass fishing competition recently announced by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

The KHSAA announced late last month that it will sanction bass fishing as a varsity sport, starting with the 2012-13 school year. Kentucky is the second state, after Illinois, to sanction bass fishing competition.

KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett says that adding bass fishing will allow many Kentucky youngsters who don't play any sport now to represent their schools in competition. Tackett notes that KHSAA also is adding bowling this year and will add archery next year to attract more high school students into sports.

More than 60 schools across the state have expressed an interest in fielding fishing teams, according to KHSAA. Kentucky has roughly 220 public high schools.

"We are definitely interested," said Ken Cox, athletic director for the Jessamine County Public Schools. "KHSAA has not come out with a lot of details yet, but once we learn more, it would give us an idea of which direction we might go."

Any decision ultimately would be up to the Jessamine County Board of Education, Cox said.

Rodney Woods athletic director for the Wayne County Public Schools, said officials there also are looking into joining the competition. The school district is located near Lake Cumberland.

"We have a lot of retired people who live and fish on the lake, and I think a couple of them have come in to talk with our superintendent and are interested in helping if we decided to go ahead," Woods said.

Fayette Schools Athletics Director Don Adkins said officials have discussed the new sport, but haven't decided whether to join in now or wait for another year.

"We really don't know," Adkins said. "We have a lot of questions. To me, putting a 16-year-old in a bass boat out on a lake somewhere ... that's another liability you might have to deal with."

Money is another potential issue. Bass boats can cost $40,000 or more, and the cost of outfitting a high school team seemingly could be steep — particularly at a time when public school districts face tight budgets.

To hold down costs and help organize the sport, KHSAA is partnering with The Bass Federation, the nation's largest grass-roots fishing organization, and FLW Outdoors of Benton, which stages fishing tournaments in many states. KHSAA also has retained Dave Gannaway, who launched high school fishing in Illinois, to act as a consultant in getting the sport started here.

As a result, Tackett says, actual costs to schools would be minimal.

Matt Troha, an assistant executive director with the Illinois High School Association, said the organization began sanctioning high school bass fishing in 2008, and the sport has been growing steadily ever since.

"We had about 225 schools participating last year, and we expect another 10 or 15 schools this year," Troha said. "We have big schools, and small schools; there are schools involved in Chicago.

"It's reaching a whole new group of kids. We've had some neat stories in terms of disabled kids being out fishing; we had a team from an all-girls high school in Chicago that qualified for the state championships the first year."

Mark Gintert, national youth director for The Bass Federation, predicts similar results in Kentucky — at relatively little cost.

Gintert, who says his organization is "involved in high school fishing all over the country," insisted that finding volunteers willing to loan their boats to local school teams or provide other assistance won't be a problem.

"I tell people this is like the Field of Dreams: if you build these events, volunteers will come to help you," he said. "Usually, there's someone in the school who likes fishing and will become the faculty adviser for that team, and they will find others to help out.

"And don't think every kid needs to fish out of a $50,000 bass boat. We've had people come to our events with camouflage duck boats, which are perfectly acceptable."

Gintert also extols the virtues of bass fishing as a sport that many Kentucky youngsters could participate in.

"Fishing is the greatest equal opportunity sport there is," he said. "That fish has no idea if you're a girl or a boy, if your six feet-four or four-foot-six. A girl can stand right in there beside a boy in the front of a boat and be catching fish. It makes no difference whatsoever."

The new Kentucky high school bass fishing season would run from late February through mid-April, culminating with state competition at Land Between The Lakes in Western Kentucky.

The Blue Grass State Games also will include bass fishing starting this summer.