Bass fishing proposed as new activity for Missouri high schools

Sunday, February 8, 2009

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Picture this: Spectators in bleachers watch as points are posted on a scoreboard, cheerleaders wave pompoms and young athletes sweat out a close contest.

A typical high school game or match? Well, not quite.

Someday, this scene may take place at a Missouri reservoir -- as part of a high-school bass fishing tournament.

Don't laugh.

Once you get over the unlikely prospect of a student lettering in bass fishing or getting a scholarship to fish for some Division I school, consider this: Bass fishing already has become a recognized high school activity in Illinois. And a group of fishermen in the bass-rich Ozarks are pushing for the sport to gain the same status in Missouri.

"I know I would have had more interest in school if there had been a bass fishing team," said John Neporadny of Lake Ozark, a nationally known outdoors writer. "This has the potential to bring in a whole new group of kids who hadn't been involved in sports before.

"With bass fishing being so popular in Missouri, this is a natural. I think it would go over big."

Neporadny is leading the charge to get bass fishing recognized as part of Missouri's high school scene. A former guide and tournament fisherman, he has seen the sport's popularity explode.

From the big pro tournaments on reservoirs such as Lake of the Ozarks and Table Rock Lake to the bass club events on countless bodies of water in the state, bass fishing is big in Missouri.

And Neporadny thinks that carries over to youngsters of high school age.

"A lot of these kids in the Ozarks are brought up fishing," he said. "I know a lot of high school kids who are very good fishermen.

"This would give them another outlet. And it would offer teaching tools in biology, meteorology and even math."

The concept already has been endorsed in Illinois, the first state to offer bass fishing as a state-sanctioned high-school activity. This spring, 214 of the 775 Illinois high schools will compete in a tournament series to determine a state champion.

Neporadny and others see no reason something similar can't take place in Missouri.

One of the biggest supporters of the concept is Jim Huson, an American history teacher at Republic High School. He fishes tournaments in the Ozarks and teaches a summer-school class on bass fishing. There is classroom instruction three days a week and a half day of actual fishing, often with pro fishermen.

"It's been unbelievably popular," he said. "Once we open enrollment, it doesn't take long for the class to fill up."

Huson has joined Neporadny in mounting a campaign to get bass fishing recognized as a high school sport.

His proposal to the Missouri State High School Activities Association looks something like this:

-- Each school that chose to participate would field a team of four fishermen.

-- The state would be divided into four regions, each of which would have a sectional tournament.

-- Schools would fish as a team, two boats per school. Total weight of bass for each team would count for that school.

-- The top 10 teams in each sectional would advance to a state tournament.

-- All boats would be operated by a coach or school representative, though students would be allowed to handle the trolling motor.

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