High School Fishing

There aren’t many state championships where the winners can actually eat the prize. Then again, there isn’t any championship quite like high-school state fishing.

For the fourth consecutive year, Florida is hosting the Student Angler Federation High School Fishing State Championship sponsored by the Bass Federation and FLW Outdoors on Sunday at Lake Toho in Kissimmee.

This isn’t a FHSAA sanctioned event, but fishing could become a state sanctioned varsity sport down the road.

“We made a presentation to Roger Dearing [FHSAA executive director], but a high-school athletic association has to be structured the right way for fishing to come in a positive manner,” said Mark Gintert, the national youth director for the Bass Federation.

There aren’t enough participating schools in Florida yet for the sport to be considered for sanctioning, which is generally a three- to four-year process. But with the rapid rate of growth for high-school fishing teams, statewide and nationally, that reality could be sooner rather than later.

In 2010, just nine teams participated in the Florida state fishing championship. This year, there are 35 registered teams through Thursday, and Gintert expects an estimated 40 teams before Sunday.

Each team is composed of two student anglers, and interested participants can still register to compete until 5 p.m. today at http://www.highschoolfishing.org. The entry fee is $25 and winners will advance to the Southeastern Conference in Gainesville, Ga., with a travel stipend in October. Those winners will receive another travel stipend to Beaver Lake in Arkansas for the national competition in 2014. The winning team will receive $10,000 scholarship to the college of their choice.

The growth of high-school fishing in Florida, though, is nothing compared to what’s happening nationally. Two states, Illinois and Kentucky, already sanctioned fishing as a varsity sport. The Missouri high-school athletic association will vote on whether or not to sanction fishing in April and New Hampshire is in the process of seeking state sanctioning.

Sanctioning, however, is not the end goal for the Bass Federation and SAF, Gintert said. The organizations want to create state championships for all 50 states. Currently, there are 41 states with state championships and at least 48 states expressed interest to the Bass Federation to help execute local fishing competitions, including Alaska and Hawaii.

There are an estimated 10,000 high-school student anglers according to the Bass Federation.

“Not every kid plays basketball, football or baseball, but there are kids who participate in fishing or hunting,” said Mitch Smith, events and promotions manager for the Student Angler Federation. “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.”

Smith also touts the fact that fishing is one of the more welcoming sports for youth of all backgrounds. He’s even heard of a student angler who has just one arm.

Woodland Academy, a varsity fishing club based in Marion County, is sending five teams to the competition Sunday. One of those teams has two female anglers, River Fielder and Arizona Carpenter.

“I think there’s many kids that participate in baseball and football, but there’s a wide range of kids that don’t,” said the girls’ coach, Sunny Carpenter. “Fishing is open to be open to anybody and anybody can excel. The girls are competing right alongside with the guys and definitely give them a run for their money.”

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