One hundred and twenty-five tournaments. That’s the number of College, High School, and Junior events I have been a part of as either a competito
One hundred and twenty-five tournaments. That’s the number of College, High School, and Junior events I have been a part of as either a competitor or Tournament Director since 2006 — until this week.
The 2022 season will kick off on Friday, at the Harris Chain of Lakes in Leesburg, Fla. First up will be the Strike King Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops followed by a Bassmaster High School and Junior Tournament. I won’t be there and it’s killing me. In a good way. But at the same time, it is still painful. If you missed the news in the fall, we named Chris Bowes VP of Tournaments and along with that I was moved to the Director of the B.A.S.S. Opens, a promotion, and one I am thankful for.
Last week, we welcomed the new Youth Manager, Glenn Cale. Cale, the former Nation Youth Director for the State of Florida is now tasked at running the whole country. I am excited to see where Glenn takes these platforms.
For me, this week has been a point of reflection, and I am pleased with what has been accomplished. While I may have been the pilot of this plane since 2011, there are so many people who have made this possible.
First, the Director of the B.A.S.S. Nation, Jon Stewart. His knowledge and passion for the Nation is second to none. He pushes everyday for all the properties that are umbrellaed under the Nation.
The second group who needs thanking are the Youth Directors and Nation presidents. They work their tails off in their own states to push the national narrative of where we think the youth platforms need to go. Several of these Youth Directors are seasoned with many years of service (as volunteers) in their own states. I remember back in 2013 at the B.A.S.S. Nation leadership meetings, we had the task of building a new high school platform — one that didn’t exist. We first had to scrap the Junior World Championship and essentially start over. It was in those passionate meetings that our High School and Junior programs were born. Fast forward to now, its at a steady 13,000 membership per year all around the world. Crazy to think that we purposely took it to zero to build it up to that.
If you look at the HS and Jr tournaments now, we have had a record setting 417 boat tournament (which is too big) to 330 boat championships. We have put HS and Jr anglers on television, launched a combine, created an All American program, and awarded millions of dollars in scholarships, almost unbelievable.
When I reflect on my time with the College Series, it’s almost a sensory overload with what all has happened. First, I go back as an angler at the University of Alabama. There I met some folks at JM and Associates, some you will know and some you won’t. They had a grand idea to have a National College Fishing tournament called “College Smash Mouth Bass”. David Healy, Steve Bowman, and Jerry McKinnis envisioned this and boy was it a success. 2005 was the first one and should be dated as the very first National College Fishing tournament. I fished in the 2007 Championship. Little did I know, at that tournament, was where my career started. Several meetings later, I found myself being offered a job to run the “Under Armor College BASS Series”. That rocked along for a few years and then in 2011 the property was absorbed by B.A.S.S.
It’s crazy to think that since those early beginnings, we are now seeing record numbers of anglers fishing (500 anglers per tournament), Live competition broadcast on FS1 and Bassmaster.com, multiple scholarship programs paying for kids’ school to fish in their programs, Elite Series qualifiers, and the ultimate victory in fishing, Classic Champions. The College Series is the training ground to prepare these anglers for the professional competition they aspire to achieve at a young age.
While I love the angling training and experience the series offers, I more importantly love the life lessons that are taught and the careers that are started. I look at folks like Ronnie Moore and Kyle Jessie, Hunter Bland, Luke Stoner, Chip Porche and Matt Pangrac, just to name a few. All these anglers came through the College Series and now have solid careers in the fishing industry. I’d like to think it was the College Series that helped those careers get started.
The last group I want to recognize and probably the most important, is the B.A.S.S. Staff. The hard working folks behind the scenes getting the job done. From in the office, studio(s) or out in the field, they make it happen.
Each year, I have heard seniors say their goodbyes on the stage, thanking their families, schools, and sponsors. I never could get used to that as an emcee, it was always tough. Now is my time in essence to graduate from the youth platforms. And just like all the anglers who have done it on stage, it’s not easy. Thanks for all the great memories, support, and passion to everyone involved in these events! Most importantly, thank you to my family for supporting me.
Good luck this week to all the teams competing. Good luck to the staff. Glenn, you’ll do great! I’ll be here at home watching on Bassmaster.com like the super fan I am.
On to the Opens.
See you on the water.