Celebrating another Classic

a-img_9511.jpg

James Overstreet

First, let me be clear.

This is not a report card for the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.

Report cards are for children — and I’m not arrogant enough or presumptuous enough to treat the world’s greatest anglers and the staff here at B.A.S.S. like a bunch of kids. 

This is just a good, old-fashioned “Atta-boy” — a pat on the back for a mammoth job so well done it drew the biggest crowd in Classic history.

For the record, that crowd was 143,323.

But that’s as far as I’ll go with numbers. I know how boresome it can be when a writer’s work heaves with the weight of endless statistics.

It makes it look like he has nothing real to talk about — and believe me, there was plenty to talk about with this Classic.

While it didn’t feature quite the pregame intrigue of the last Classic held on Lake Hartwell — the frigid 2015 event that was delayed briefly on the first day so the boats could be thawed from their trailers — it featured its own kind of early drama.

Casey Ashley — a hometown South Carolina guy and an angler widely condidered to be the favorite — was forced to spend 38 minutes in the penalty box on Day 1 because he was late for check-in on the official practice day.

His reason: He forgot to spring his GPS clock forward when Daylight Saving’s Time went into effect the previous weekend.

“I’m just an idiot,” Ashley said with the perfect mix of a smile and a grimace. “You can’t get mad when it’s your own fault.”

Admitting you’re not always the smartest guy in the room? That’s what real men do. 

Punishing a guy for breaking a rule — even when he’s the hometown favorite and it was a purely honest mistake? That’s what the greatest professional fishing organization in the world does.

The competition itself was epic as usual, with Okies Jason Christie and Edwin Evers slugging it out for the first two rounds, only to be passed by a young pro whose star is rising even faster than many unfairly predicted a few years back.

Remember when people were referring to Jordan Lee as the “next Kevin VanDam?”

I thought that was extremely unfair and something that would be impossible for anyone to ever live up to. But with back-to-back Classic titles under his belt, Lee certainly doesn’t seem to be buckling under the weight of lofty expectations.

There were other highlights, for sure. 

Media Day morphed into a delightful free-for-all with fans showing up early for their scheduled meeting with the pros and standing in lines 50 to 75 deep for autographs.

Several of the pros did quick interviews for me while greeting the autograph seekers ­— and when they couldn’t accommodate both, I was happy to yield for a few minutes to the fans who serve as the life’s blood of the sport.

The good folks from Greenville and the tournament staff here at B.A.S.S. — the people whose names never appear in tournament standings or historical spreadsheets — did an amazing job with the crowds.

That was a challenge, considering they dealt with everything from a special appearance by country superstar Jason Aldean to a Classic Expo that was maybe the best ever.

Seriously, I walked through the Expo twice — once to do all of the usual greeting of friends and industry peers and once more just to soak it all in as a fan of the sport.

Parking was a waiting game. But people who’ve been to major sporting events with giant crowds surely weren’t caught off guard by that.

Some people had to pay as much as $20 to park. But spaces were also available for as low as $6 — and unlike other major sporting events that often feature ticket prices of $500 or more, the Classic events were free.

I don’t know that the 2018 Classic will go down as one of the best in history. I’ll leave that debate to the self-proclaimed “historians” of the sport.

I’m not going to give childish letter grades, rate it on a scale of 1 to 10 or check a box “yes” or “no” like some lovesick junior high student.

I’ll only say it was good from start to finish — and I can’t wait for next year.