Classic ring

Rick Clunn had two of his four Classic rings made into decorative brooches for his daughters to wear.

 Paul Elias' 22-year-old model remains a conversation piece to this day.

 George Cochran had one of his modified and, as a result, it symbolizes more than an admirer would ever suspect.

 Davy Hite has one, but yearns to win another so that both of his sons will someday proudly wear them.

 Don Butler wore the one he received 32 years ago when he spoke at the BASS Federation National Championship in May.

 Hank Parker jokes that his two are part of his "Mr. T. Starter Kit."

 What do these pieces of jewelry have in common? All are Bassmaster Classic champion's rings, perhaps the rarest pieces of jewelry in the sports world.

 "All of the Classic winners of the past have received a ring," BASS founder Ray Scott noted. "It's a very historically unique product, that ring is."

 Although it is the 50-pound Classic trophy that gets hoisted above the champion's head and thus seen in photographs around the world, it is the distinctive ring that provides a quiet, constant source of pride and satisfaction for the remainder of a career - and a lifetime.

 "I like the ring more than I do the Classic trophy because you can display it easily. And it's fun to wear around your peers," said Parker, owner of two ('79 and '89) Classic rings. "It gets noticed. You wouldn't believe how many times I've been flying on an airplane and people said to me, 'Hey, that's a championship ring. Did you play ball?' I explained that it was the Bassmaster Classic ring, and a lot of people knew what I was talking about."

 Although it has evolved throughout the years, ring given to the 2004 Classic champion weighs about 6 ounces and resembles the best of the sports world's championship rings. Its black onyx face features BASS' leaping bass icon in gold. Circling the face are 16 diamonds and the words "CITGO Bassmaster Classic Champion."

 One side of the ring will sport the winner's name and the entire BASS logo; the Classic city and year, as well as the CITGO logo, will adorn the opposite side.

 "I always thought the Classic ring was more like a showpiece, that it wasn't like a real ring, but this thing is amazing," said Michael Iaconelli, the most recent recipient. "It's 18 karat gold and lined with diamonds. It's a heavy, solid ring. It reminds you a lot of an NFL Super Bowl ring.

 "When I first put that thing on my finger, I felt like a rap star, wearing a big, heavy ring."

 Athletes in other sports often talk about "getting a ring." It is a symbol of greatness that drives them to succeed. It is no different with professional anglers and the Classic ring.

 "It's a metaphor," Clunn said. "That's an easy way of saying, 'I want to be the best at least one time. For one day, I want to be the very, very best.' That's what a ring signifies in a particular sport.

 "It's the same with professional bass fishing. We don't seem to make as big a deal of it because we also have a big trophy - and the title itself. But it's a nice reminder."

 It is interesting to learn how some past champions make use of their ring.

 "I don't wear it," Iaconelli said. "I keep it in its mahogany display box. I've only worn it once. I wore it the week after winning the Classic for a few media events. Since then, it's been on my mantle."

 Clunn, who owned four rings, kept the tokens of his victories in '76 and '84.

 "I don't wear them much because I don't like to wear rings period," he added. "I wear one to special functions or something like that. My oldest son (6-year-old Sage) has already laid claim to one of them. I want one for myself, so I need to win at least one more for both of my sons. River (his second son) won't be far behind."

 Paul Elias's 1982 world championship ring is stored unceremoniously in an overnight bag most of the time. He wears it to select public appearances.

 "It's a conversation piece because people see it and they relate it to the Super Bowl rings," he emphasized. "They ask about it, and we get to talking. It's impressive to people when they realize what it is and what it's all about."

 Two time ('87 and '96) champion George Cochran only has to look at his right ring finger to remember his most recent Classic victory, as well as the man who helped shape him into a champion. When Ed Cochran died of cancer in 1994, at the age of 72, he passed on his impressive Mason's ring to his son. As a tribute to his father, Cochran later had the 4 1/2-carat diamond from that piece of jewelry inserted into the heart of his Classic ring.

 "I decided that I wanted to put my dad's ring inside of my champion's ring, which makes it doubly important to me," Cochran said. "It means a lot to me."

 Hank Parker's two Classic rings are safely locked away in his gun vault, keeping company with an old National Bass Association Angler-of-the-Year ring and an All Pro model awarded by Berkley (one of his sponsors). The four rings comprise his self-described "Mr. T. Starter Kit."

 "I haven't worn my Classic rings for quite a few years," Parker said. "I used to wear them when I'd go do seminars and stuff like that, but I guess I just got out of the habit."

 In contrast, Davy Hite's '99 Classic ring gets quite a bit of use on special occasions.

 "I treasure it greatly," the South Carolina pro said. "It's one of my prize possessions, that's for sure. "It's very ironic, the year I wonClassic, Denny Brauer was wearing his when we all went out to dinner one night, and I couldn't keep my eyes off it. I kept thinking, 'Man, I'd love to have one of those things.' Little did I know that I was going to get one in a few days."

 Hite has a little added incentive for adding another Classic ring to his collection.

 "Parker, my oldest son, asked me one day, 'Dad, when you're gone, who's going to get that Classic ring?' " Hite related. "I said, 'I don't know, why?' He said, 'I just like it.'

 "I said, 'How about I just win another one and you and (younger son) Payton both get one?' "

 Classic ring history

 With only 33 of them in existence, the Bassmaster Classic champion's ring is one of the rarest pieces of jewelry in the sports world.

 Every Classic winner from 1971 champion Bobby Murray to 2003's Michael Iaconelli has been awarded the distinctive ring of achievement. But the earliest winners had to wait awhile to receive their ring.

 "We couldn't afford to buy them the first years because I was too broke," BASS founder Ray Scott recalled. "When we finally came up with the money to get the ring commissioned, we went back and gave all of them one. I'm guessing on this, but I think it was about three years into the Classic."

 Four past champions own more than one ring. Rick Clunn has four, while Murray, George Cochran and Hank Parker each possess two.

 Of wives and rings

 Davy Hite's fondness for his world champion's ring has been the topic of some good-natured kidding from his wife, Natalie.

 "When I first won the Classic, I wore it every day for a month or so," said Hite, the 1999 champion. "I used to do metal work and I didn't wear a wedding band until we had been married seven years because it was really dangerous to wear any kind of jewelry.

 "Natalie noticed that I was wearing the Classic ring from the moment they gave it to me and I hadn't taken it off. She said, 'It took you seven years to wear that wedding band, but you're wearing that Classic ring every day.'

 "I told Denny (Brauer) about her jokingly giving me a hard time about wearing my Classic ring more than I wore my wedding band, and he said, 'You tell her that one of these' - and he pointed at his Classic ring - 'is a lot harder to get than one of those.'

 "I said, 'Nooooo, I'm not telling her that."

Page views