A one-of-a-kind trophy

Kevin VanDam

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Kevin VanDam

Kevin VanDam

In the world of professional bass fishing, Kevin VanDam is at the pinnacle and arguably the best in the world.

My career has rewarded me with some beautiful trophies over the years, but a very special item arrived the other day.

An electric guitar.

Not just any guitar, but a custom-made guitar, designed especially for me by “Woodshoprocks,” a Sacramento middle school program that is rapidly becoming one of the nation’s most unique and successful woodshop programs.

When I opened the package, it absolutely took my breath away. It did the same for Sherry and my sons.

You talk about an impressive piece of craftsmanship and a true work of art! It has “2011 Angler of Year” and “2011 Bassmaster Classic Champ” burned creatively into each side. The back features my sponsors’ logos and the front displays etchings of my favorite fishing tackle, my logo and a mural of photos of me and my family.

Woodshoprocks is the brainchild of Duane Calkins, an avid bass angler and Sacramento area woodshop school teacher, who one day decided that students would become more interested in building guitars than bird houses.

He told me that Woodshoprocks offer students challenging, interesting and intrinsically motivating programs that serve as a foundation for mathematics, science, life skills and strategies that help build self-confidence.

And what a success it’s been. Other American schools are sending woodshop teachers into California to learn his system so they can start similar programs in their schools. It’s now taught in 13 other school systems from California to New Jersey.

His five hours of woodshop classes at Buljan Middle School built 120 guitars last year, most of which the students made for themselves.

Each student pays a lab fee and gets to take home a $1,200 guitar. The program receives some donations from corporations and local businesses and is constantly looking for new sponsors to grow the program.

In addition to teaching the kids to build their own guitars, Calkins’ class takes on special projects, such as making guitars for Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of Year and Classic winners, which he’s done each year since 2007. Skeet Reese was the first recipient of one of those.

The kids do all the work, from cutting out the design, gluing wood pieces together and assembling the fingerboard.

Duane said the detailed etchings on my guitar were done by 19-year-old Brittany Brazil, an unbelievably talented wood-burner who has since graduated from the Woodshoprocks program.

Calkins’ program has become so popular that several celebrities and musicians have asked the school to build custom guitars for them. For example, Caulkins’ students have built guitars for Brad Paisley, James Hatfield of Metallica (my favorite group!), Bo Bice and Cue Ball, to name a few.

But this program is about more than just building guitars. Not only has it fostered an interest in wood working, but it works as a model for a small business operation, where students work in groups responsible for each project, oversee quality control, production and take ownership of those projects. Those are all skills they will carry out in real life.

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!

(To learn more or see some of the students’ other work, visit www.woodshoprocks.com.)

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