I used to joke that the only thing that kept me from being a high school sports star was a total lack of size, speed and athletic ability.
But there was actually one more thing that held me back during my school days in the early 1990s.
High school fishing didn’t exist then.
In my day, fishing was something you did instead of school. We never dreamed of our accomplishments on the water being announced over the school intercom or featured in the school newsletter.
But now, fishing is a rapidly expanding part of the high school culture – as evidenced by the whopping 220 boats registered for the Costa Bassmaster High School Southern Open this Saturday on Lake Martin in Alexander City, Ala.
That means 440 youngsters will make up one of the largest fields ever in a B.A.S.S.-sanctioned event – and guys, we couldn’t be more thrilled to have you. At the same time, though, I sure hope you realize how fortunate you are to have an opportunity to represent your school while doing something you love.
You may find this hard to believe, considering the wealth of athletic opportunities most schools offer these days. But it wasn’t that long ago that many high schools only offered football, basketball and baseball.
If you didn’t excel at one of those sports, you were locked out of the arena.
For girls in my day, opportunities were even more limited.
I know that’s changed with the rise of sports like girls' basketball, softball, volleyball, soccer and track.
But fishing, in my mind, is still special for female competitors because it offers you a chance to compete against everyone.
Fishing isn’t a chromosome thing. There are several girls registered to fish at Lake Martin – and if you're one of them, you’ll be competing for the same prizes as the boys in the field.
Show them how it’s done, ladies.
Fishing also isn’t a sport dominated by those who were born with the most physical gifts.
Can you win on the high school fishing circuit if you stand 6-3 and run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds?
Sure, but neither is a requirement.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the story of Clay Dyer. He has no legs and only part of one arm, but he’s been competing at a high level and building a long list of sponsors for years.
His motto is “If I can, you can” – and doesn’t that sum up the budding sport of high school bass fishing perfectly?
It doesn’t matter if you’re fast or slow, short or tall, weak or strong.
If you’ve got a hook in the water, you’ve got a chance to do great things in this sport.
If you’ve ever fished a weekend bass tournament with your dad and counted the days until you could fish another one, this is the sport for you. The main requirement is a good supply of “want-to.”
And who wouldn’t want to?
A chance to turn your weekend passion into a source of pride for your school, your family and yourself is an unbelievable opportunity that many folks, me included, would have viewed as science fiction 20 years ago.
I’d give anything to jump back into my teenage self and then into a boat to compete against you guys at Lake Martin.
But since those days are long gone for me, I’ll make my contribution to the high school ranks by simply reminding you what a fantastic opportunity you have before you.
Twenty years from now, you won’t be saying “I wish I could have done that.”
You’ll be saying “I did that.”
So before you ever wet a hook at Lake Martin, you’ve already won.