Young’uns showing out

Alex Standerfer of New London, Wis., (Casting Accuracy), Phillip Herring of Richton, Miss., (Technical Challenge & Overall) and Nathan Preston of Newnan, Ga., (Casting Distance) took home awards at the 2022 Abu Garcia Bassmaster High School Combine presented by Skeeter.

When I first heard B.A.S.S. was making plans for the Abu Garcia Bassmaster High School Combine presented by Skeeter, I was a little skeptical.

Don’t get me wrong. Any excuse to bring young people together with schools and coaches who can help shape their futures in a positive way is a fabulous thing — and the mere title of the event left no doubt the sponsors were on board.

What I wondered, though, is what coaches could truly learn about young anglers during an event that takes place on land as much as it does on water.

After Year 1, I was convinced. After Year 2, I’m simply blown away.

The 2022 version of the event was held Sept. 16-18 on Wheeler Lake in Decatur, Ala. After drawing 84 anglers and 19 colleges in 2021, this year’s event drew 98 anglers from 22 states who showcased their abilities for coaches from 16 colleges — all of which offer fishing scholarships.

In 2021, the event generated a heartwarming $2.6 million in scholarship offers. We don’t know yet what that dollar figure will be for 2022, but I’m betting it’ll be mind blowing — and it’ll set the stage for an even bigger Year 3.

It’s official: B.A.S.S. has reshaped the sport again — and this time, the major beneficiaries are college-bound young people trying to make their way in the world.

But still, how do coaches learn about anglers during a three-day, half-land, half-water event?

Well, pretty much the same way football programs have been evaluating talent at summer camps for decades.

The first day of the combine includes competitions like Casting Distance, Technical Skill and Casting Accuracy. Coaches see what these young folks can do and select anglers for a “second look” where they gauge their personalities and intellect, their overall knowledge of the sport and just develop a gut feeling on whether they’ll fit in with their program.

Having covered college recruiting of all types for years, I can’t tell you just how important that is.

An athlete can be great and still not be a great fit for a certain program. Without the combine, all many coaches know about the anglers they’re recruiting is what they’ve seen on tournament results sheets and what they’ve heard them say on the phone.

This event allows for personal, one-on-one time that often ends in a mutual arrangement that helps both sides greatly.

It also provides a permanent mark on a resume for anglers with aspirations of fishing for a living someday.

Phillip Herring of Richton, Miss., won the overall title at this year’s combine with 288 points in the three skills events. He also won the individual crown in the Technical Skill category by blazing through an obstacle course in a Skeeter FXR20 in just 42 seconds.

Think those two tidbits might be bullet points on a resume sitting on a big-name sponsor’s desk someday?

So, take my name off the skeptics list. It wasn’t so much that I wondered if it would work; I just wondered how it would work.

But I wonder no more. B.A.S.S. simply brings a phenomenal group of youngsters together and lets them do the things they do best.

All the grown-ups have to do is recognize greatness.