The sport of bass fishing has an abundance of folks with big hearts who love to serve others. These men and women are difference makers in the lives of folks in their communities. It is their joy to work behind the scenes to enrich the lives of others, support fishing, and strengthen their communities. They are a remarkable breed, worthy of honor and appreciation for the work they do.
B.A.S.S. recently introduced a new award at the 2020 Bassmaster Classic to honor these folks. The C.A.S.T. for Kids B.A.S.S. Humanitarian Award was created to honor a B.A.S.S. member for demonstrating outstanding volunteer service to make the lives of others better. The 2020 winner of the inaugural award was Chris Rambough of Meridian, Idaho. The prestigious award was presented to Chris onstage during the Bassmaster Classic weigh-in.
Nominations for the award were accepted by B.A.S.S. during the month of January. There were so many outstanding nominees that the panel of judges had a hard time choosing one winner. Today, I’d like to shine a spotlight on some of the other outstanding folks who were nominated for the inaugural Humanitarian Award. They are all awesome contributors to the fishing culture in their respective communities.
Ralph Sweat of Plainfield, Ill., has been involved with a myriad of volunteer activities in his community over the years. He has continually volunteered to help the fishing community as well as sick kids and veterans. Ralph has served as Commander of the Sons of the Legion from 2016 to now, where he has helped with veteran charities such as Welcome You Home, Operation Care Package and Heart of a Veteran. Ralph is also a sponsor for visits to Manteno Veterans Home, and he helps to collect needed clothing and goods for vets. For the American Legion, Ralph has sponsored facility cleanups, organized and raised funds for outside recreational areas and helped out with Cook and Grill Out summer outreach.
Ralph has also been a part of the Pitch It Program through the ASA where he collected plastic baits from Illinois anglers, melted them down and made awards out of them that were then given to the youth. Awards were also given out to the kids who collected the most plastic baits.
As the president of the Illinois B.A.S.S. Nation (IBN) for the last three years, Ralph has been at every tournament along with the IBN trailer that he hauls. He sets up for every tournament, helps with the weigh-ins and talks with the youth, then drives the trailer back after the event.
Finally, Ralph has helped raise over $296,000 for the Make a Wish Foundation in his community since 1992. That’s an amazing amount of great work, Ralph. Thank you.
Bill Wilson of Ft. Collins, Colo., has also volunteered to serve his community in many ways over the years. Bill has been actively involved with the annual C.A.S.T. for Kids event on Horsetooth Reservoir in Colorado for more than 20 years. C.A.S.T. for Kids provides an opportunity for children with special needs to enjoy a day of fishing and boating. Bill is so dedicated to this event, that every year he takes the lead and spends countless hours ensuring every little detail is taken care — life jackets, parking, food, boats, cameras, permits, licenses, ramps, etc. The end result is that the 200 folks who attend — the kids, families, volunteers and sponsors all have an awesome time. When thanking Bill for his efforts, he immediately steers the conversation away from himself and to the kids at the event.
In addition to the time and energy spent for the C.A.S.T. for Kids event, Bill also spends many hours each year doing volunteer work to improve Colorado fisheries with his Centennial Bass Club. Bill spearheads fundraising efforts to enhance Colorado fisheries by running the Full Moon Open — Colorado’s biggest bass tournament — and by partnering with Colorado State Parks and Wildlife, receiving grant monies. Bill then leads the implementation of conservation projects like habitat enhancement, lake cleanup and building docks. Bill always makes sure students are actively involved in these projects.
Every year Bill also does the cooking for the Senior Center for Veterans on Veterans Day where approximately 350 people show up. Additionally, during the holidays, he continues to spread laughter and happiness to all kids by playing Santa Clause for many organizations and schools. With Bill’s year-round love for kids and fishing, maybe Santa does reside in Northern Colorado.
Nick Hart of Lexington, Tenn., is the team coach for Scotts Hill High School Anglers located in West Tennessee. Nick’s extraordinary leadership sets an example for his Scotts Hill anglers to follow. Nick is much more than just a high school fishing coach. He is a mentor and leader, and he shapes the future of every person he encounters. To him, being a fishing coach is much more than spending a day on the water with a child. It is Nick’s mission to make a positive impact on these young adults' lives.
At one of the first team meetings, Nick talked about teenage suicide. He has taken the opportunity to counsel one on one with a couple of young anglers that had been battling depression along with thoughts of suicide. This resulted in the students getting the help they needed. He truly feels for today's youth with all the peer pressure they are facing. As a strong leader, Coach Hart incorporated in his team programs the concept of giving back. The Scotts Hill team participates in benefit tournaments for St. Jude’s Hospital, Take a Kid Fishing events and other charities. Nick also was able to get the school to retire the jerseys of the first two kids who got high school fishing started in their area. They are proudly displayed in the school’s Hall of Fame.
Scotts Hill anglers have three very important team members: one with moderate to severe Down syndrome and two anglers that are autistic. Someone questioned why Scotts Hill Anglers would want kids with special needs on their team. They responded, “Why wouldn’t we want someone with special needs to be on our team?” The Scotts Hill Student Anglers take pride in working with kids with Down syndrome and that have special needs. Each fall Scotts Hill Anglers host a tournament involving special needs youth as a fundraiser, with proceeds going to St. Jude, a scholarship program for special needs youth.
Nick tells a story about presenting a trophy to a young man who was battling leukemia. His mom said that the trophy he received is one of his most prized possessions. Nick and his anglers include the special needs teammates at nearly all Scotts Hill Team weigh-ins, where they are found cheering on the other anglers. Their special needs teammates work at various events more than some of the team’s most successful anglers. It doesn't matter if it's a bake sale, ticket raffle or tournament, you can always count on them to participate. Nick is always quick to recognize these special anglers at all team meetings and other events of the club. To quote Coach Hart, “Seeing what some of these youth battle on a daily basis makes all us want to say a special 'thank you' to the Good Lord above for the health and abilities he has blessed us with. Having these special needs anglers on our team has truly been a blessing.”
This past Christmas, Nick and his team decorated boats with lights in the Christmas parade. Nick had the opportunity to have Tristan, the teammate with Down syndrome, in the lighted boat with him. Tristan would shake all over with excitement as he laughed each time he threw candy to kids along the route. He enjoyed waving to all the people lining the streets. We all should enjoy life like Tristan does. Coach Nick Hart, through his extraordinary leadership of the Scotts Hill Angers, sets the example for others to follow. Most importantly, Nick is teaching others to care for and include the less fortunate in our communities.
Keep up the great work, Nick.
In 2012, Sandy Melvin of Boca Grande, Fla., founded Boca Grande Charities Inc. and the Gasparilla Island Kids Classic Tarpon Tournament. This is an annual Tarpon Tournament for Children 15 years old and younger, where all of the registration fees are donated to charities. Since 2012 more than $262,000 has been donated. Recipients of these donations have included:
- Moffitt Cancer Center "Families First," a program to assist families and children adjust when a parent has cancer.
- John Hopkins All Children's Hospital "Music Therapy," a program to help children cope with the pain, fear, stress and isolation of having cancer.
- Easter Seals of Southwest Florida "Project Rainbow" that provides a time when chronically ill children, or those that are medically fragile or developmentally/physically disabled, have a time to be kids while parents/caregivers have time to be adults.
- Charlotte County STEM Camp, a two-week summer program that allows middle school and high school students the opportunity learn about science and conduct their own research.
- Englewood Community Care Clinic that provides no-cost medical services to the underserved residents of Englewood, Fla.
The tournament is based around the concept of "kids helping kids." The participants of the event learn about the history of the Boca Grande fishery, learn about the value of catch and release, have a great day fishing and receive prizes based upon the number of fish caught and released. More than 900 children have participated since 2012 with the average age of 11 years old, and an average tarpon catch and release time of nine minutes.
In addition to founding and running this event, Sandy spends a great deal of time fundraising for this event. The costs of the event for prizes, food, venue, insurance and safety permits are fully supported by these donations, which allows all of the registration fees to be donated to charities. This is a first-class event that has such festivities as a flyover of vintage World War II planes as a salute to troops and veterans during the opening ceremonies and awards for all participants that catch a tarpon. Sandy has also solicited donations to cover the cost of participation for kids that would not otherwise be able to participate. What a creative way to have a positive impact on your community. Nice work, Sandy.
Ralph, Bill, Nick and Sandy all exemplify what the new C.A.S.T. for Kids B.A.S.S. Humanitarian Award is all about. Each has found his or her own unique way to use God-given gifts and talents to be a difference maker in the lives of others. These folks are an inspiration to us all, and they should challenge each of us to look for new ways to strengthen our own communities.
Thank you, all.