The Bassmaster Elite Series Green Bay Challenge started on the wrong foot, but Green Bay mayor Jim Schmitt made certain it ended the right way.
Schmitt attended the weigh-ins at Metro Harbor every day. He was front row-center when 23-year-old Jonathon VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., accepted the championship trophy Sunday afternoon.
"This has been a terrific tournament," Schmitt said. "Everyone is happy. This tournament is the buzz in town. We've gotten some great exposure. This is a good thing for Green Bay."
The buzz for the Green Bay Challenge was anything but positive after the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced a boundary that limited Lake Michigan's tournament waters, roughly, to those south of Sturgeon Bay.
As Ott DeFoe of Knoxville, Tenn., said Sunday, after finishing fifth with a four-day total of 61 pounds, 5 ounces, "If we could have gone just a little further north, 61 pounds wouldn't have been any good at all, unless it was a three-day total."
Nevertheless, VanDam's winning weight of 79-2, almost a four-pound average for his 20-fish total, put a positive spin on the smallmouth bass possibilities in Lake Michigan.
"When it comes to fishing, I think the DNR didn't give B.A.S.S. the full credit it deserves in knowing how to keep fish healthy and be friendly to the fishery," said Schmitt, 53, who is serving his third term as the city's mayor.
"I'm just not sure this was handled as well as it could have been. With that said, I think (DNR officials) realize they could have done a better job in getting advice from B.A.S.S. I think next year they and I share the same goal, which is to get B.A.S.S. back here. We need to expand the fishing area.
"We are learning too. Understand that we are trying. I do think you'll see a much more proactive DNR when it comes to working with B.A.S.S. in the future."
Schmitt seemed tireless in his efforts to welcome the Bassmaster Elite Series, mingling with the anglers backstage prior to Thursday's weigh-in and braving the un-shaded spectator seating for the weekend weigh-ins, which were warm, but nothing near the triple-digit heat-wave baking most of the U.S.
More than one B.A.S.S. official was overheard speculating whether the mayor of any other NFL city would have made even a token appearance at an Elite Series weigh-in. Schmitt talked the talk and walked the walk, so to speak.
The NFL's Green Bay Packers are the backbone of "Titletown, USA." The Packers have won more NFL titles – 13 – than any other league team, including the most recent in 2010, which came during Schmitt's tenure. (The Chicago Bears are second with nine, and the New York Giants are third with eight NFL crowns.)
Green Bay is, by far, the smallest metropolitan area to host a major professional sports franchise in North America. In the 2010 U.S. Census, Green Bay's population was listed at 104,057; the Green Bay metropolitan area's population is three times that.
The relatively small population base hasn't hindered the Packers, who are the only community-owned U.S. sports franchise. (A share of Green Bay Packers' stocks sells for $250, and the team has sold 250,000 shares.)
Tickets to Packers' games are always tough to get. And season tickets? Forget about it.
The Packers have the most famous waiting list for season tickets in America. It has been over 100,000 at times. After last year's 15-1 regular season, the list grew from 87,000 to over 96,000. It's common for Green Bay couples to put the name of a newborn on the list, in hopes the child will score season tickets at some much-later time in life.
Several of the 12 Green Bay Challenge finalists experienced some of that Packer pride with a trip to Lambeau Field after Saturday's weigh-in. Construction is visible everywhere you look in Green Bay. Lambeau Field, named after Packers founder, former player and coach, Curly Lambeau, is no exception. Construction on-going there will add 6,700 seats to bring capacity near 80,000.
"We pride ourselves in being a terrific place to fish as well as raise a family and play football," Schmitt said.
"I love this community. It's a great group of people, and I want to take them where they deserve to be, which it is 'Titletown' for a whole lot of venues."
Schmitt deserves credit for taking a bad start to the Green Bay Challenge and, in fitting with Packers tradition, creating a fantastic finish.
The only person smiling bigger Sunday than champion Jonathon VanDam was Green Bay mayor Jim Schmitt.