LAKE WYLIE, S.C. -- When students are interested in leadership and fishing, that’s always a great combination. This passion was on display the weekend of Nov. 20-22, when more than 200 high school and college students gathered on the shores of Lake Wylie at YMCA Camp Thunderbird for The Life of Impact Leadership Experience and The Riley’s Cup Fishing Tournament. The second annual event drew attendees from eight different states, representing 43 high schools and seven universities. The event featured a weekend of outdoor adventures, including a B.A.S.S. High School Nation Open Tournament. Organized by a partnership consisting of Riley’s Catch, YMCA Camp Thunderbird, and Elevation Church, the aim is to allow students to experience new adventures, meet different kinds of people, make new friends, and be a part of something larger than themselves.
The weekend kicked off on Friday night with an opportunity for each attendee to hear the story of Riley Laymon, the 17-year-old student who was the inspiration for the event. Riley’s passion for people and the outdoors made him a natural leader. Following his tragic death in 2012, Riley’s parents and friends formed Riley’s Catch, an organization dedicated to empowering students to live greater lives.
Students participated in a leadership development session with John Richter of CliftonLarsonAllen LLP, followed by an opportunity to put their leadership skills into action through service. In partnership with Servants with a Heart, the group packed 50,000 meals for undernourished families in Nicaragua and their local area of Charlotte.
Tim, a 17-year-old high school angler from Illinois, said, “This weekend was amazing. It made me think of things differently and it was very motivating. It was awesome how we were able to help 50,000 other people we have never met. It impacted my life in a great way.”
Saturday morning brought dozens of local B.A.S.S. High School teams to compete in The Riley’s Cup. During the pre-dawn tournament meeting, local Bassmaster Elite Series Pro Britt Myers addressed the anglers, sharing his story of getting started in bass fishing and how much joy the sport has brought to his life. The morning dawned clear and crisp, and as the boats assembled for the tournament launch, all the anglers and boat captains stood to join the crowd on shore in singing the national anthem.
As the boats blasted off to a great day of Lake Wylie fishing, the students on shore launched into land-based adventures of their own. Students enjoyed archery, zip lining, climbing, canoeing, and team-building games. Almost 30 students took part in the Riley’s Cup Shore Angler Division, an introductory fishing opportunity provided by Riley’s Catch volunteers. Each student was provided with fishing tackle, coaching, encouragement, and even the chance to fish from a bass boat captained by volunteers like Errol Duckett of Team Duckett Fishing.
This was Duckett’s first year participating in The Riley’s Cup, and when he found out he’d have the opportunity to introduce students to fishing for the first time, he said, “This is a great event, and we’re here to help in any way we can.”
The Riley’s Cup depends on volunteer boat captains to take students fishing for the day. Sixteen of the 25 volunteer captains were from one of four universities represented: East Carolina University, North Carolina State University, Strayer University, and University of North Carolina Charlotte. Some of these volunteers drove over 400 miles to the event with their boats in tow, ready for the chance to take high school students fishing.
East Carolina University senior Mike Corbishley was a returning volunteer, having participated in the inaugural event in 2014. He says he plans to be back next year and will continue to recruit collegiate anglers as boat captains. When asked why he was willing to give up his weekend and come so far to volunteer, Corbishley said, “When I was younger, someone took me out fishing for the first time, and it has changed my life. I wanted to give back and create that opportunity for someone else.”
As boats checked in Saturday afternoon, it became clear that the November fishing on Lake Wylie had been tough, but 23 of the 38 boats weighed-in fish. The weigh-in had a festive atmosphere and the students who had spent the day on land gathered to celebrate with the anglers, most attending a fishing tournament weigh-in for the first time.
The students in the Couick’s Marine Hot Seat changed places three times throughout the weigh-in, but the final pair were Britt Myers and Tanner Maness of the York County High School Anglers with a winning weight of 14 pounds. Their big fish, the largest of the day, weighed 5.65 pounds. The York County High School Anglers also took second (Christopher Carnes and Justin Grigg) and fifth places (Will Dewey and Cameron Kidd), with the team from Carson High School coming in third (CJ Guest and Bobby Bauer), and the South Florence High School Bass Team finishing fourth (TJ Floyd and James Gibbons).
To express their gratitude to the collegiate boat captains, Riley’s Catch hosted an exclusive tournament for them on Sunday afternoon. The anglers competed for bragging rights and a $1,000 prize to the winning team’s college fishing club. East Carolina University anglers Mike Corbishley and Austin Warmus won the prize with a nice 11-pound limit.
The entire event was made possible by presenting sponsors Scott Clark Toyota and CliftonLarsonAllen LLP. Tournament prizes were donated by Duckett Fishing, who provided rods for the top five teams, Shane’s Baits, who donated tackle for each volunteer boat captain, HuntFishPaddle, who provided tackle for each participating angler, and the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
After Myers and Maness were awarded The Riley’s Cup and each student’s participation was celebrated, Saturday evening continued with a huge barbeque buffet, a worship service led by Elevation Church, and the Carolina’s Largest Glow-in-the-Dark Capture the Flag.
The event concluded Sunday with a leadership dialogue facilitated by YMCA Camp Thunderbird Director Jill Moore and Laurel Zitney, representing the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. The pair encouraged students to stretch their comfort zones and be willing to try things that they’d never done before in order to reach their leadership potential.
Malachi, a freshman from North Carolina, was one of the many students who tried fishing for the first time during The Riley’s Cup as part of the Shore Angler Division. He said about the weekend, “It opened my mind to a new perspective. I now believe in myself a little more.”
The Life of Impact Leadership Experience and The Riley’s Cup Fishing Tournament is an annual event, open to all high school students. Next year’s event is scheduled for Nov. 18-20, 2016. More information about the event is available at http://www.lifeofimpact.com.