“Now the seats are all empty…”
Dateline: Oneida Shores
Is there a sunrise, on the stars.
Or, is dawn a gift for only us.
In a moment the earth will pick the color of the day.
Oneida Lake will be the palate.
Waits the morning hue.
I am standing alone on a dock.
Above me are the stars.
Below me are the frogs.
Do either know I’m here. Know that we, are here.
I watch, as the gentle waves, paint the day. First comes deep purple, then pink.
To my left I hear the flapping of wings before I see what rides the air.
And then comes the Heron skimming the canvas of the new day.
I listen to the frogs.
I watch the Blue Heron.
And I wonder, do they know I am here.
Do they care.
And I wonder, would dawn come if there were no frogs,
Would dawn no longer care about us.
If we silence the flapping wings.
If we make the morning symphony,
Then, two beams of light skim the water.
Then four, six, eight.
The Heron lands, the frogs go silent.
They know I’m here now.
They know WE are here now.
I don’t bother to turn around, I just stand there, smiling, waiting for what I know is coming, waiting for the comfort of two words.
Words that tell the dawn, thanks for the start, we’ll take it from here.
And with that, for me, the B.A.S.S. Elite tournament is officially underway.
“…take the stage pack it up and tear it down…”
Back when you still have morning goobers in your eyes.
Back when you have dragon breath and bed hair.
Back when you can only see the alarm clock with your good eye.
Back then…B.A.S.S. has already begun, working.
Backstage @B.A.S.S. works dawn to dusk.
Backstage @B.A.S.S. works hours and hours, 10-12 hours a day, so that the Elite anglers can have their couple hours on stage.
You know those front and center, the ones holding the fish and smiling.
Now meet those you will never see.
But those who without whom, none of this would function.
Meet first, “…hey babe.”
“Hey Babe,” with Max applies to guys, to gals, to workers, to kings. Max’s Babe, is the equivalent to my, Dude.
No disrespect is meant or implied with either, it’s just our way of leveling the field of play.
Max is the guy that examines all the bags of fish before the Elites walk on stage. He counts the fish to make sure all are alive, measures the small ones, and smiles at the big ones.
Max…59 years old, spent 32 years as a college teacher, and instructor in computer programing since 1975, now retired, “Yeah db, I go way back in the computer game, in fact I put together the first personal computer ever to be used in a school in Montgomery.”
I smile, thinking that the first interaction back then between man and machine may have started exactly like this,
To Max’s right sits Gretchen Sheppard, Manager of Event Administration, “I take care of the taxes, scoring stuff, the administrative aspect of all this.”
Gretchen has been with B.A.S.S. for 11 years, “It was my first job out of college, thought I was just going to do it until something else came up.”
What came up was marriage, what came up was, “…this gets in your blood, it is a lot of work, but I would miss this, these guys.”
Gretchen nods to the Elite anglers standing in line to see Max.
As you watch and look close Max checks the fish, then his left hand drops down to his side, and he gives a silent thumbs up to Gretchen who then, now working the verification table enters into a computer the anglers name and “5 fish, all alive.”
Before you hear the name of the Elite Angler , you hear the music they walk on the stage to, “They hear what I do, they just don’t see me.”
Shannon Fontaine is the sound dude who plays all the music you hear…the music you hear when nothing is going on, and the music that every angler takes with him to the stage.
Shannon is retired from the United States Naval Reserves.
Please know this, the man behind the music, is an American Patriot.
When the man behind the music plays the National Anthem, watch him, watch him stand tall, watch him never take his eyes off the flag, watch him mouth the words, and now know why he does it:
“I was active in Desert Storm, then in 2006 I was on active duty in Iraqi Freedom.”
Know that the song is being played by someone who fought for our right to raise that flag.
“…they're the first to come and last to leave
they'll set it up in another town…”
While you are heading to your cars in the parking lot after the last angler has left the stage…behind you…behind the stage…the orchestra begins.
A team of several workers begins taking everything down.
I have watched as they dismantle the stage, load all the equipment, and then drive it to the next venue that night, and in the morning, set it all up again.
I have watched them set it up in 100 degree heat.
I have watched them set it up, or take it down in driving rain.
I have watched them physically reach up and hold the tents, using their bodies as counterweights to the high winds buffeting the canvas.
Their names are Eric Nichols from Paris, Tn who has been doing it for 8 years, Mike Wall a local guy from around Oneida here, a new guy to the crew, and John Mason.
John Mason has been doing it for 15 years, he also takes care of all the B.A.S.S vehicles and trailers.
Before that, “I was in the banking business, was the head teller at a bank.”
And then, there is Tony.
Chief Deputy (ret) Tony Quick. “For the past 27 years I was the Undersheriff in Cullman County, Alabama.”
I can’t explain what Tony does, because he does everything.
As does everybody else.
But also know this about Tony, he is also retired from 26 years of serving in the Alabama National Guard, “The last 16 months I was a Platoon Sergeant in Iraq.”
To know Tony is to know he loves doing what he is doing with B.A.S.S.
I knew beforehand about Tony’s law enforcement background, and I always thought that what he does now gives him peace.
I did not know about his military background.
I did not know that he was in action in Iraq.
And I certainly did not know this about the Platoon Sergeant, “don’t really want to talk much about combat…”
No one who has ever been in it, does.
No one who has ever been in it, forgets the horrors.
No one who has ever been in it, is ever the same.
“…saw action yeah….”
And Tony just trails off…I say nothing, ask nothing, write action, I just wait.
“…action…(a long pause)…I lost three men…lost them to an ambush…”
And the smile that is always there, leaves.
I put my notebook in my pocket.
I put my pen in my pocket.
I am moved by the man who brings the red fish bags to the anglers.
I grab his shoulder, rub his back, and move away.
And as I do, silently, so no one will see, I pretend to adjust the brim of my Tilly hat, but if you looked close, what you would have seen was this,
a salute to the Platoon Sergeant who now works Backstage @B.A.S.S
“…haul them trusses down and get'em up them ramps…”
The night comes to me once again on the dock.
I silently thank all those who make this sport, make B.A.S.S go. Dozens and dozens of people of whom you will never know their name.
And to them I apologize for not telling their story…yet.
But please know this, it is not only the Elite Anglers who take to the stage.
There are Elites working backstage as well.
There are Elites working the offices in Birmingham as well.
It is a sport of Elites both on and off the stage.
And as I walk off the dock,
I hear the flap of the Heron wings.
I hear the chorus of the frogs.
And the moon and the stars light my way.
Does the Heron know we are here.
Do the frogs know we are here.
I hope not.
I hope to them, we are the nameless backstage.
Because only then,
will the universe, know our names.
“…cause when it comes to moving me
you guys are the champs.”
The Load Out
See pictures by db of backstage at B.A.S.S. here