It was about midway through the final weigh-in, The Bi-Lo Center was rocking. I was on the arena floor and it felt like I was at the center of a whirlpool of noise.
That's when I got hit the first time with a Thunder Stick, one of those balloon things you bang together to make noise.
I didn't think anything of it.
Harder this time, right in the middle of my back and neck. I was up at the inside rail waiting for Casey Ashley to get off his boat and bring his fish to the podium. This time I shot my head around, and didn't see anything.
Hit pretty much right upside my head, so I spun around to face my attacker, but there was no one. Then I heard it…
"MISTER!!! Get out of my way."
And I followed the sentence down to find myself staring into the eyes of about a 3 ½ foot child. A Girl. A Girl with a shaking thunder stick in her hand. And as I looked at this child this is what she said to me next.
"Excuse me," I said as I watched her starting to raise the thunder stick.
"GET ... NOW!"
So I moved, as the father of a once 3 ½ foot daughter, I knew I had no chance. And as I started to move she slid right in front of me and stuck her chin on the rail, looking at the stage, looking back at me with a somewhat menacing 'Don't Even Think of Trying To Take This Spot' look.
I was toast, I knew it, SHE knew it.
So I was about to start shooting over her head as Casey took the stage and just had the camera up and focused when I felt a finger tapping my stomach.
I didn't have to look to know where it was coming from. I pulled the camera from my eye and looked down.
"He's my favorite Mister."
"Uh huh," and I started to focus again.
TAP, TAP, TAP. Camera down.
"He's so cute Mister."
"Uh Huh," ***Casey don't take that to mean anything but frankly I felt if I didn't say something positive this kid could take me.***
And then she started jumping up and down yelling his name and holding out something that I took she wanted signed, and I thought to myself, for Casey's sake, HE BETTER DO IT.
It was then that I stopped looking at the stage, and started to look around at the crowd. And here's some of what I saw:
Oh, and some huge blown up Bass.
This was a loud, happy crowd, don't know if there was any trouble in the seats, I didn't see any, didn't hear any swearing, nothing came flying from the stands at the athletes, a bit different than a football game I was at where people in the stands threw cups filled with urine at the opposing team bench.
This was a crowd who truly respected those around them, those on the stage, and those who couldn't be there; the folks in the Armed Services everywhere.
It was the 4th of July in February.
I was only a few feet from the stage when Alton Jones was announced as the winner, and as I took photographs I saw him disappear in a cloud of confetti and streamers. A few minutes later he left the stage and a swarm of little kids came rushing up and falling on all fours grabbing as much of the pomp as their hands could hold.
All around me it was like a BASS Easter Egg hunt, kids wrapped in streamers, confetti on cheeks. The little girl with the thunder stick right in the middle of it all. No surprise there.
And as she went by me she stopped, and I braced for the smack, but she reached up and gave me a tiny handful of the confetti that she had scooped off the floor.
It's in my camera bag now, and there's where it will stay.