Hank Cherry and the tug of family

Don Barone talks to 2013 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year Hank Cherry about the moments in life that REALLY count.

Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted prior to Hank Cherry winning 2013 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year.


“I hope you dance…”

Dateline:  La Crosse, Wis.

I never told Barb,


Never told,


never told,


But Ashley.

But Jimmy.

When we first brought you home from the hospital, that first or second night that you were with us, when Mommy was exhausted and asleep, I would get up and go into your nursery,

and I would gently pick you up in your blanket,

and I would hold you in my arms, tight against my chest,

and we would dance.

In the moonlight of Fresno,

we would dance.

In the moonlight of Allentown,

we would dance.

And sometimes you would open your eyes, and in the moonlight as we danced I would rub noses and kiss you cheeks,

and in a whisper,

I would sing to you,

about love,

and mommies,

and daddies,

and little babies, blue or pink.



I know you don’t remember it, but whenever I’m out, and it is a clear moonlight night,

I still smell your baby powder,

I still feel your perfect skin, your wisps of hair,

and in that special place you have in my heart,




“…I hope you never lose your sense of wonder…”

In every life, comes moments of love,

moments of happiness,

moments of joy.

I remember the moment I first looked into the eyes of the woman who would be my wife.

I remember the moment, when she told me, of the baby within.

I remember the moment when I was the first person on Earth to hold our children.

Life so special, it can only come in a moment.

Moments so special, they’re numbered, moments so special they may be the last thing you remember on Earth.

In the end, I won’t remember the stories I wrote, the jerk bosses I had to deal with, the bizarre company policies, or the pretty cars, or fancy shirts,

in the end,

our last thoughts will be of love.

Moments of love, moments of love that I saw last night as I sat and did a story with rookie Elite angler Hank Cherry.

A couple days ago, I was leaning up against Hank’s boat after he came in from practice, he offered me a slice of pizza, and as he sat in his boat eating, we were just talking when he said, “db, I’ve had a hard time keeping my head in the game this week.”

Now this dude is a stick; he’s leading the Rookie of the Year race and he’s 14th in the Toyota Angler of the Year race…and his head, “…isn’t in it.”

“Dude, what are you talking about…where is your head?”

And he stops eating pizza and looks at me and says,

“…with Bella Grace.”

“…I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean…”


Meet Bella Grace, Hank and his wife’s, Jaclyn’s, new baby girl.

“Bella is 11 days old right now, and I have only been with her three days. I had to leave to be at this tournament but I miss her real bad, find myself calling home from the boat much more often than normal.”

Hank is the Marlboro Man, the Steve Canyon of the 1960s comics.  A chiseled rough-hewn face, penetrating stare, could be a Top Gun pilot, cop or concrete worker.

“Dude, love the name Bella Grace…”

“Yeah, db, I have always liked the name, Bella…and Grace…that’s for the sacrifice God made when he gave up his son for all of us.”

I have to tell you, that came out of left field, and I really don’t know what to say. The Elite/Marshal registration was just over with, and Hank and I were sitting on a bench out in front of the Best Western hotel. Hank is telling me that he was recently baptized, that he misses his church and, “…all of this, db (he points to all the other Elite anglers around us) … all of this, isn’t it. IT is what comes at the end of the road. IT is like you say, The Ride, and the person who guides it.”

I’m just sitting there. I had no idea Hank thought like this, and that is completely my fault, and in print I apologize to Hank that I didn’t go into this interview better prepared.

To be honest with you, I wasn’t thrilled to be sitting on a bench in a hotel parking lot having a spiritual conversation, but it was Hank…Hank Cherry from some place in North Carolina, a dude named Hank who brought me back to dancing in the moonlight with my babies.

“db, I was at this seminar one time, and Hank Parker got up to talk, and I’ll never forget what he said. He said, ‘God gave up his son for us’ and then he looked at me, right at me and said, ‘he gave up his son for you…could you do that?”

And sitting on a bench in a hotel parking lot,

Hank Cherry began to cry.

“…never settle for the path of least resistance…”

Once again, I’m very thankful for the wrap around Costa sunglasses.

“Sorry, db, I still get choked up when I think of that.”

Hank also has a son, 3 years old, named Christian.

I know that because last year at the Toyota Owners shindig in North Carolina, I took this photo. 

The large hand is Hank’s,

the tiny hand is his son’s.

Hank was standing in line, waiting to weigh in his fish, a bag in one hand, his child’s hand in his other hand,

I knew the moment I snapped the photo, that whoever this chiseled face dude was,

he was a daddy, first and foremost.

“Don’t get me wrong, db, I’m here to win. I am driven to win, but you know children…”

And he trailed off, didn’t finish the sentence.

Yeah dude, I know, children are game changers.

The moment the doc in the delivery room handed my daughter, Ashley, to me, that very moment, that moment of love,

I knew that all that came before, I was just a punk; being a daddy, though, made me a man.

“All my life, db, I wanted to be right here, I dreamed of being right here, but now that I’m here, it’s a job, a job I love, but a job, you know what I mean…”

I do, more so than you will ever know. I spent a lot of years doing something I really didn’t like, but did it because it was the best thing for the kids,

a “Leave It To Beaver” neighborhood,

great schools,

nice house,


not me,

put both kids through college,

40 years of marriage to the same lady.

All you working stiffs out there, you get that.  Now, sure, I wished for the Harley, the Corvette, Margaritas on the beach with Barb, but came sneakers for the kids, school books and teens looking good.

But you know what, Hank, taking care of them,

was the greatest gift I ever got.


“…and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance…”

“You know, db, all of this… all of it was because of 1 ounce.”

Eh, excuse me.

“Yeah, I won the Southern Open last year by 1 OUNCE.  That 1 ounce is everything.”

Think about that. ONE ounce. Dudes, that’s just a shot.  Three fingers of your favorite partakin’.

That’s just 465 tiny drops of water.

Five quarters.

One box of matches, or one AA battery.

1 oz.


A moment

of joy,

of happiness,

of love.

“I think I won, db, by that ounce, because, because, it was just my time.  Wasn’t my time before, but that tournament, all of this, just my time to be here.”

The secret, my friend Hank, is to know and realize your time when you are in it.

And the reason you feel you don’t have your head in the game is because you are in,

Bella Grace Time.

Hank, I have written the greatest story of my life, and only two people will ever read it,


and Jimmy.

When they were the same age as Bella Grace, I was away from them a lot as well, so every week I would sit down and handwrite something to them in a diary I bought at some fancy stationary store.

Every week.

52 love letters, to my babies.

52 dreams, I had for my children,

52 moments of love, on paper.

Do that for Bella Grace.

Write of your dreams, for her, for Christian, for Jaclyn, and every word you write, will bring them closer to you, no matter where you are, and dude I’ll buy you the book.

And in the beginning I will write this,


in the moonlight,


songs of love,

and tell those in your arms,


1 oz

which was,

in truth,

a moment of joy,

a moment of happiness,

a moment of love,


by the original,


“…I hope you dance… I hope you dance.”

“I Hope You Dance”

Lee Ann Womack


Originally published June 2013