Elites compete for new trophy benefiting autism charities

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John Crews poses with the new trophy...

For most fishermen, the road to competitive success begins with a trophy.

Long before they were vying for boats, oversized cardboard paychecks and points that might land them in the Bassmaster Classic, the anglers of today’s Bassmaster Elite Series were shooting for small statues to signify their accomplishments.

With that in mind, John Crews wanted to give the Bassmaster Elite Series pros a little something extra to shoot for this year — something with a meaning that goes far beyond pounds and ounces. 

As part of his continuing efforts to promote autism awareness, Crews recently introduced the “Autism Angler of April” trophy. The stylish award will go to the angler who catches the most weight in two Elite Series events this month and raises the most money to benefit the cause. 

“I was talking with (Bassmaster Emcee) Dave Mercer, and he made the point that our guys really tend to get excited when there is some kind of hardware involved,” Crews said. “He suggested I talk with Dave Smith, so I sent him a text. That’s all it took.”

Smith, a former Elite Series pro who owns MTM Recognition, was glad to oblige, and the Elite Series’ newest trophy was born. 

“This campaign started several years ago, and we’ve tried to just build on it every year,” Crews said. “This is a really cool step that has everyone excited.”

Autism is a mental condition that now affects about one in 68 children. People with autism have trouble with simple instinctive tasks like making eye contact, verbal communication and dealing with crowded places.

The disability has earned the label “autism spectrum disorder,” because of its wide array of symptoms — and because it’s present from early childhood, early diagnosis is the only way for many autistic children to achieve some sort of normalcy from life. 

That makes research and awareness all the more important.

Crews began his efforts to raise autism awareness years ago when he met Eli Delany and his young son, Luke, who was diagnosed with autism when he was just 18 months old. Eli founded the Massachusetts-based nonprofit charity “My Little Buddy’s Boat” to call attention to the need for autism research funding.

The charity sells bright-yellow decals sporting the phrase “Fishin’ with a Mission,” and Crews began running the sticker on his boat during competitive events.

Since then, the Virginia pro with 21 B.A.S.S. Top 10 performances has brought attention to the cause with flags that were flown by nearly the entire Elite Series field during April tournaments in 2015. 

He’s also introduced lapel pins — and this year, special bracelets that feature the simple phrase “autism awareness.”