2011 B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship Ouachita River - Monroe, LA, Nov 3 - 5, 2011

Almost was nothin' …

Don Barone
Tom Keifer wants to make the most of his chance.

About the author

Don Barone

Don Barone

db has been in the reporting biz for over 30 years, won some Emmys and other awards, but is proudest of his four-decade marriage, his two kids and the fact he founded Tackle The Storm Foundation to help children.

"Chances are when said and done … "

Dateline:  … Until Came A Chance.

So.

Why should you care about this?

This B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship thing.

Who cares?

Bunch of guys you've never heard of.

Who cares?

You should care because of Larry Johnson.  And Larry Johnson isn't even here. Don't even know if Larry Johnson fishes. Don't even know if Larry Johnson has ever heard of B.A.S.S.

Larry Johnson is a great blues guitarist.

Almost wasn't though, almost wasn't nothin'.

Larry Johnson, the story goes, once applied to be a janitor at Radio City Music Hall … didn't get the job.

Dude wasn't making ends meet playing the guitar at Honky Tonks and shot and beer bars.

Needed to push broom to survive.  Needed to clean up after others to make it, to make it to the next gig.

Hard to believe in yourself, pushing broom.  Hard to become someone else, pushing broom.

But make it to the next gig Larry Johnson did.  Not a stale beer joint gig.  Not a gig where you are paid in smokes and a dinner.

A real gig.

Larry Johnson got to play in front of a packed house.

Got to be in a movie, a documentary about the blues, got filmed sitting on stage playing to a packed house.

On stage … at the Radio City Music Hall.

That's why you should care about these guys in the boats.

Last week, they could be pushing broom.

Next week, they could headed to the Bassmaster Classic.

Chance.

Somewhere along the line Larry Johnson got a chance … a chance to play his guitar … a chance to show what he was put on this earth to do.

Ain't no pushing broom.

Chance.

These dudes in these boats have the chance of a lifetime, a chance that could change their lives.

Forever.

The gig of a lifetime.

Get in their boat, be them.  You ever wish for a chance, you ever have tears roll off your pillow because no one will give you a chance, you ever look in the mirror and say "please God just give me one shot, please God, JUST ONE CHANCE."

You out there pushing broom … waiting … hoping … praying … for a chance.

We all got our brooms to push.

We all are hoping.

We all are waiting.

We all are praying.

Just give me the freakin' chance … that's all we ask.

Why should you care about all this?

Because IT'S YOU.

You out there in those boats.

This isn't pie in the sky liberal arts theory out there on the lake.

This is steel mill real life … become the boss, become the union steward … you're life gets better.

Win this darn thing, become one of the six who go to the Bassmaster Classic … YOUR LIFE GETS BETTER.

These are not stinking rich snobby jerk professional athletes out there … it's your neighbor, it's your insurance guy, it's your electrician, it's the welder, it's the salesman, it's your produce guy.

It's the guy with the same amount of money in his pocket as you have in yours.

I have never asked to be given anything other than a chance.

Don't want your charity boss man, just want your opportunity.

Don't want your owe me stuff, just want to earn my chance.

Don't want playin' no games to get it, just want a level playin' field.

I'll push broom.

I'll clean up after you.

I'll work two gigs, three gigs, all the gigs in the world.

For a chance.

A chance.

Chance.

So that I won't be.

Almost was nothin'.

" … who'll be the lucky ones who make it all the way … "

I believe we have Kings.

I believe we have Queens.

Royalty, here in America.

If you get up every morning and schlep off to work to feed your family, to give your kids a chance to better themselves.

You are royalty in my book.

If you protect us from each other, a cop.

You are royalty.

If you run to something we run away from to save us, a firefighter.

You are royalty.

If you are a nurse, the guy who plows the street, the guy who drives the bus, the social worker, the people who show up to help others in a disaster.

You are royalty.

But above all, if you are a teacher, a teacher who cares, a teacher who shops at Staples with their own money to make up for the supplies after budget cuts, a teacher for the children, not an administrator for the numbers, a teacher who knows the world is a classroom.

In my book, you are double royalty.

So, I'm walking around the boat yard talking to the competitors, talking to their families … listening … mainly listening, for a story. I come up to this big guy in a boat.

I'm thinking to myself … we've got ourselves a linebacker here.

The dude is just sitting there, looking around, looking at his wife, just sitting there smiling.

"Where you from?”

The dude looks at me and says, "Michigan."

"Gotta love those Lions, huh?"

"Yes sir."

"Did you play?"

"Yes sir."

"Where?"

"Eastern Michigan University."

"What position?"

"Linebacker."

Now I'm smiling. 

"What do you do now?"

"Teach … I'm a phys ed teacher at a high school in Michigan."

Before he finishes that sentence, I have my reporter's notebook out. I'm about to ask him a question when he just says, "I can't believe I'm here, everything I've done in my whole life has been for the chance to be in the Bassmaster Classic."

" … chances are the fascinations … "

"I grew up on a farm in Ohio," says Tom Kiefer, who for the last 24 years has taught physical education and health and coached at Brighton High School in Brighton, Mich.

"We had 125 acres, but way out back we had a pond. I spent hours and hours fishing that pond. My mother used to come outside and start beeping the car horn so I would know it was time for lunch or dinner, but if I was catching fish she could wear the battery out in the car beeping the horn … I wasn't coming in if I was on fish."

I grew up on a pond as well.

At my Uncle Jim's and Aunt Irma's house.

My pond went from floor to ceiling … hundreds of books.  I stayed at their home a lot. Every night Aunt Irma would read books from the pond to me and I would go to bed dreaming of tigers and bears, dinosaurs and rocket ships.

Dreaming of words.

Wishing for a chance someday to write the words that Aunt Irma would one day read.

Tom went from his pond out back to the football field of Eastern Michigan where he played in every game that he was eligible to play in. "44 games over the course of my career there, but I knew, knew the last time I took the pads off, was at the end of a bowl game, The California Bowl in Fresno, Calif. We played San Jose State … they said we had no chance … 20-some-point underdogs … "

While telling me about his final game, I know Tom has left me, and is back in sunny Fresno walking off the field, " … underdogs … we won though 31-27, so much for no chance."

"I have to tell you though, when I took those pads off I sat a long time in that locker room … sat a long time when I knew it was the end."

Know the feeling, Aunt Irma passed away before I ever wrote a word for her to read.

Ever word written since has been for Irma, the lady who gave me my first chance.

" … chances won't escape from me … "

How important is this, being here, competing in the championship … here's Tom … listen.

"I qualified at the tournament in Ft. Madison, Iowa … it was a 10-hour drive back home and when I called my wife Stacey back home … I broke down."

I didn't say anything, sometimes saying nothing is the best question you can ask.

"On the drive home I thought back to all those nights I spent catching night crawlers, all the hours spent out in the boat alone, in all kinds of weather, trying to get better. I tried to think in my head, how many hours, how many hours, and I couldn't, couldn't come near an estimate, countless … just countless."

And Tom drifts off for a moment … thinking I'm sure of all the hours spent in the boat … the boat he just sold … the bought he used for seven years … his old boat, now gone.

The boat he bought seven years ago …

… from KVD.

"I watch what KVD does, how he fishes, learned a lot from him, a lot from Rick Clunn as well … but a tremendous amount from Mark Davis."

Mark Davis, an Elite angler … an Angler of the Year … a Bassmaster Classic winner.

"I did the Marshall thing with B.A.S.S., did it twice. Didn't fish much just wanted to do it so I could watch and learn from the best, and both times I drew Mark Davis … great guy … but a great angler. I learned so much, an education, man, what an education!"

" … chances are only what we make them … "

I have to be honest, I don't know how many competitors we have here for this tournament, it doesn't matter to me, the number, so I can never get it stuck in my head.

But I have spent a couple days now walking up to as many of them as possible, asking them where they are from, and then just shooting the breeze.

I always ask one question, ask the same question, word for word, I make the introduction and chit-chat with them, all to ask this one question, all to hear their answer.

"So how cool is it that you are here at the championship?"

Not exactly a journalism Hall of Fame question, but short, non-threatening, easy to ask, easy to answer … but it will tell you everything about the person.

And from those answers, I worry.

Here's why … too many are thrilled to be here.

That's right, I said it.

If you are just thrilled to be here, this is as far as you are going.  Enjoy the ride, you'll be going home.

It is the same in any sport, and it is what makes champions.

The goal is not to MAKE the Super Bowl … the goal is to WIN the Super Bowl.  Subtle difference, but THE difference.

I'm happy all you dudes are here, enjoy it. Might be forever before you get back … but there is more than just here … here is where chance lives.

You have what may be a once-in-a-lifetime shot at getting to the Bassmaster Classic … and winning it.

If you don't think winning it means anything, don't think it is WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT … look close at the out of focus shot I took of KVD as he drove by me at the last Classic.

The dude had just won his fourth Classic title … you think that photo says it is old hat to him?

Look at it … do you think he would be happy just to be there?

I knew KVD was good. This photo, which I printed out and have hanging in my office, this photo to me is what a champion is all about.

Tom gets that.

"I'm a concrete sequential planning kind of guy. I have worked out every day for the last two months so I can come here and go on to the Classic.  I know that if I'm in good shape physically, I'm also in good shape mentally."

Tom credits his wife, his family, his faith as the reason for his success, that, and a linebacker’s attitude.

"You can't let the previous play cost you the next play … it is always focus on the next play." 

Focus forward, not backward.

"When I prepare, I always expect to win.  Mentally, I don't play anything without expecting to win."

I'm going to say something that will flip out every coach in America … and I don't care.

Competition has got nothing to do about the other person.

When you compete, the only person you should compete against is yourself.

I don't care about what the other writers write about here.

They are all nice people and good writers.

None of them stink.

It is the mirror I battle. It's the mirror that tells me I stink. It is the mirror I must beat.

Larry Johnson, the great guitarist I began with, is who I will end it with.

A quote from the man who pushed broom to get to his chance.

"If you are working on your own style, little by little competition don't mean nothing. You in your own vein, the next guy do what he do and you do what you do."

And with that comes your chance.

Compete, within.

Within is where the champion resides.

Within is where championships are won.

The B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship is but one chance to reach your biggest chance … the Bassmaster Classic stage.

You wanted it.

You got it.

Here's your …

… chance.

" … and all I need."

Chances

Five For Fighting

--db

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