Dawn of high school bass fishing?

Illinois High School Association could make bass tournaments a sponsored activity

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — The Granite City Warriors defeated the Alton Redbirds by more than 5 pounds Saturday afternoon during an Illinois high school bass tournament at Rend Lake ...

This might be the type of sports coverage that could begin to appear in Illinois newspapers in the coming years if leaders in the Land of Lincoln find support for high school bass tournaments.

And the possibility is definitely there.

In a potentially huge win for recreational fishing, the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Board of Directors has approved a proposal that could make bass tournaments an IHSA-sponsored activity.

Last October, the IHSA began exploring the feasibility of holding bass tournaments to reach students who weren't involved in more traditional sports programs.

Dave Gannaway, an avid Illinois bass angler and IHSA assistant executive director, spent the ensuing months gathering information on what it would take for the state to begin holding high school bass tournaments. He submitted a detailed proposal at the board's meeting Jan. 14.

"The meeting went very well," said Gannaway. "The board moved forward with approving the IHSA to put together a committee to look into forming the terms and conditions of how a tournament like this would actually work in the state."

The steering committee will present its recommendations to the IHSA board this spring.

"As we look at this, first we are going to have to find the interest level of all of our schools and then we have to look at forming some type of a tournament that's going to be manageable right out of the chute. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered relative to the interest level of the schools that are out there."

The interest level from the schools will be the deciding factor for the proposal to become reality, but Gannaway believes several schools are interested enough to make the program work. "I don't have an exact number. But from all the e-mails that have been coming in, I feel it's going to be a significantly high number of schools," Gannaway predicted.

"We have 756 IHSA-member schools and it wouldn't surprise me to see in the neighborhood of 200 to 250 schools be interested in working with this."

Gannaway noted some rural and city high schools, including two in Chicago, already have bass clubs established in the schools. "I'm sure we will have geographic representation from all over the state," he said.

Some of the other factors the steering committee will consider include the number of students from each school wanting to participate, size of teams and how to divide the state into sectional tournaments leading to a state championship. The accessibility of boats and the number of adult volunteers to serve as boat captains and help run the tournaments will also determine the fate of the program.

"I'm sure a lot of the people in their schools will become the coaches and will have boats to utilize," said Gannaway.

The IHSA official said he will talk to the Illinois B.A.S.S. Federation Nation about recruiting volunteers to serve as boat captains and mentors for the students.

"Obviously we would like to be involved," said Jim McCune, Illinois B.A.S.S. Federation Nation youth director.

"I would be willing to get in on their talks, for sure."

At press time, McCune reported that Gannaway was scheduled to meet with the Illinois B.A.S.S. Federation Nation at a presidents meeting in late January.

A major supporter of the idea has been Terry Brown, president of Get Outside Media, formerly of the Web site, www.bassfan.com.

Brown has worked the last two years with Gannaway on the initial plans to submit to the IHSA board. "My feeling is that we can be a feeder ground from the high school level for these college programs," Brown explained. "My dream is that it would be cool for a kid to determine where he's going to college based on the fishing program. Wouldn't it be cool to see a troubled kid or someone who wasn't a ball sports kid all of a sudden find something that he's good at?"

Brown has vowed to help Gannaway with the program in any capacity, including calling on his contacts in the fishing industry for support.

"The industry as a whole is embracing this," Brown told BASS Times.

"Everybody I've talked to about it has money allocated for it."

Gannaway foresees the IHSA setting a standard for other states to follow when it holds its first events. He added that this could happen as early as next spring, and no later than the 2009-2010 school year.

"I think a lot of state associations are going to be watching this," he predicted.

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