To all Elites past and present, thank you

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All photos Don Barone

Dateline: A picnic table

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.”
- Helen Keller

It began, simply, 11 years ago at a lone picnic table overlooking the calm blue waters of Lake Champlain in autumn.

And in a universe that prefers order, it saw to it that it would come to an end at a lone picnic table overlooking the calm blue waters of Lake Chatuge in autumn.

That is as it should be.

A small park basically across the street from my hotel and on the beach, a lone picnic table, and so sitting here I scribble the goodbye to the Elite notes.

Alone with only the sound of their boats echoing through the valleys and over the hills here at this gentle, serene, green and blue paradise in North Georgia.

It is best to say goodbye from a quiet place.

To all the Elites past and present: 

To K-Pink for my first bass boat ride, my first sighting of a bass fish, a stranger in a pink boat becomes the brother I never had, and his wife, Kerry, the younger older sister I never had, both family for life…simply, Thank You.

To Guy Eaker for showing me the epitome of what exactly a southern gentleman is all about…simply, Thank You.

To KVD for showing me and the world what it is to be a competitor, easily in all my years of covering all sorts of sports, Kevin would be in the top five best competitors ever, so to KVD, Sherry, the boys, and of course Nadine and Dick…simply, Thank You.

To Skeet, Kim and the girls, all now family as well, thank you for fronting all the money to put over 2,000 children back fishing and for being the dancing brother I never had…simply, Thank You.

To Aaron Martens for all the hugs, and to Leslie for all the help during interviews…simply, Thank You.

To Rick Clunn for all the talks of Zen and the art of fishing and friendship, chats about the philosophy of all the stuff around us…simply, Thank You. 

To Brandon Palaniuk, for the tears when you didn’t win one for me, to Tiff for taking care of the boy and keeping him well…simply, Thank You.

To James Niggemeyer the only person on the planet I was a co-angler for and for being like an adopted road son like Brandon and for all those long keep me awake while driving phone calls…simply, Thank You. 

To Britt and Missy Meyers, to Robin and Randy Howell, to Brent and Bobbie Chapman, to Jared and Keri Lintner, to Sara and Randall Tharp and all those quick looks you sent my way to make sure I was OK…simply, Thank You.

To my roomies Shaw and Paul, it’s impossible for me to type all the thanks that you need to hear from me so…simply, Thank You.

To Ike for his passion, and to Becky for dealing with it, nothing but love and…simply, Thank you. 

To Denny Brauer for always being there when I needed a respite to regain my sanity…simply, Thank You 

To Jason Christie for always letting me get to “P” when we play “PIG” on the basketball court…simply, Thank You.

To The Kennedys, too much to write on what you mean to me so love and…simply, Thank You.