Classic qualifier Kennedy believes

A few weeks from now, amateur bass angler James Kennedy will have the chance to fulfill a longtime dream when he competes in bass fishing's most major event, the CITGO Bassmaster Classic.

And the Lacombe, La., resident is appreciative of the BASS Federation system that provided the opportunity for him to be a part of the 51-angler field in the Bassmaster Classic, to be held Feb. 24-26 at Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla. Kennedy and five other amateurs earned spots in the Classic field by winning their respective divisions in the recent BASS Federation Championship tournament, capping off a year-long qualifying process.

"I'm most definitely a believer in the system," said Kennedy, who won the Central Division at the Federation Championship in January. "The way the Federation is set up, you're talking about bass club guys, for the majority, who are trying to get to this level. It's hard for a guy to get a shot to go to the Classic."

The past year has been difficult for Kennedy. Though his Gulf Coast home was spared by Hurricane Katrina, the home of his mother-in-law just across the border in Mississippi was destroyed, and others who were close to him also were hit hard. For several months, he provided temporary shelter for 18 people.

"It took a month and a half or two months before everybody could go home," he said. "When you have that many people come and live in one house, it makes you realize just how truly blessed you really are. When you look around, you don't realize the devastation of something like that until it happens to you or your neighbor, and then you feel it."

Kennedy suffered another set back after he lost his job as an auto technician. "The day before I came to the Federation Championship, they let me know that if I went, I wasn't employed anymore," he said. "I was coming to the tournament no matter what took place, so that tells you where my dreams are."

Kennedy hopes his Bassmaster Classic appearance will help bolster his fishing career to the point where he can fish professionally. "If you can come through the Federation and go to the Classic and maybe perform well, then maybe you can get some sponsors," he said.

"I'd love to fish professionally. I'd love to get out there on tour. If the opportunity arises, I've got to go. That's where I am right now in this sport. I want to do it now while I've still got some drive because I've got more drive now than I've ever had."

The 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic will be hosted by the Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Central Florida Sports Commission.