BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Most teachers try to steer their students away from soft drinks, but Sonia Nelson actually encourages hers to pick up a Coca Cola can. Of course, these cans are empty, and the fishing line tied to their pop tops and wound around the aluminum "spools" casts a plastic weight nicely, with proper thumb control.
Creatively educational, Nelson's makeshift "reels" trace their inspiration to the ongoing efforts of Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WWF) to integrate bass fishing — and other outdoor skills — into Physical Education classes.
State P.E. teachers received a hands-on lesson in this objective, when WFF Aquatic Education Coordinator Doug Darr presented a seminar on the fundamentals of fishing instruction during an Alabama State Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (ASAHPERD) conference held here recently. Alabama's P.E. teachers actively seek new ways to involve students in lifelong physical activities and Darr said fishing fits the bill.
"Nowadays, kids are not getting outdoors as much as they should, so anything we can do to get them outdoors is good," said Darr. "The main way kids get into fishing is when an adult takes them, but they have to be interested. They have to have an awareness (of the sport) and realize they can do it. This is a way to influence kids and establish that interest."
Overcoming the initial skills barrier is the first step, Darr said. "We all like to do things that we know how to do, so we show (students) how easy it is to cast with a spincast reel. The idea is to get kids to realize that they can cast; then they can get excited about fishing. This is the first step, to let them know that fishing is something they can do."
Darr and his staff facilitate ongoing angling instruction with classroom seminars and loaner rods. Teachers take it from there and some expand the teaching with fishing field trips and other activities. At St. Pius X Catholic School in Mobile, Nelson's students start with the cola can casting and then graduate to spincast outfits. Equal access is what she likes best about fishing.
"All children are on the same playing field," she said. "A lot of students are good in football, basketball or baseball, but then there's that child who doesn't excel in sports. Fishing allows all students to be successful. It also gives students something else to do with their parents outside of school."
Darr encourages teachers to bolster the fishing skills with conservation and environmental stewardship lessons. "We want to make sure kids understand that fisheries are sustainable. You can harvest fish and still have a resource so we need to handle fish with dignity."
Other School Programs
Adapting its tag line, "The Future Plays Here," the Illinois High School Association crafted a more appropriate slogan — "The Future Fishes Here" — for the nation's first sanctioned high school bass fishing program. Launched in spring 2009, the IHSA program — officially offered as an extracurricular activity, rather than a sport — combines education with competition and yielded the first ever high school bass championship May 9. For more information, visit http://www.thefuturefisheshere.org.
Based in San Antonio, Texas, the volunteer network of "I Support Outdoor Ed" espouses the goal of making Outdoor Education classes available to every student, in every school, in every state. For information, visit http://isupportoutdoored.com/contact.html.
Administered by the Future Fisherman Foundation, the Physh Ed National Fishing and Boating Education Grants initiative enables public, private or charter schools to design and deliver high quality, standards-based fishing related programming as a part of their daily curriculum. http://www.futurefisherman.org/programs/physh_ed/index.html.