By John Neporadny
Branson, Mo.—Missouri high school anglers made history by competing in the Bass Pro Shops Open Championship of High School Fishing June 7-8 at Table Rock Lake.
The event was the first tournament ever held for high school teams signed up with the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) bass fishing program. The tournament drew 103 student anglers from 12 high schools that were paired up with volunteer boat captains each day.
Republic won the tournament with 47 points and collected the top prize of $5,000 in scholarship money. A tiebreaker was used to determine second and third place since both Ozark and Branson finished with 31 points. Ozark broke the tie since one of its two-man teams had the heaviest single-day weight and claimed the second-place prize of $3,000 in scholarship money. Branson settled for third place and won $2,000 in scholarship money.
Each two-man team fished for points for their schools based on the team’s total weight each day. The top 15 finishers of the two-man teams each day were awarded points for their schools to determine the overall school champion.
The tournament also awarded trophies to the top 3 finishers in the team competition. Cody Huff and Colten Levan of Ava High School earned the first-place trophy with a two-day weight of 22.54 pounds. Brandon Durr and Colton Mease of Republic took second with 22.10 and Dillon Statler and Nick Snelson of Reeds Spring High placed third with 21.59. The Big Bass plaque was presented to Ozark High’s Cameron Smith and Austin Thrap who weighed in a 5.48-pound largemouth bass.
Some of the student anglers had tournament experience but this was the first time they had fished in a high school event. “It is a great program,” said Cody Huff of Ava High. “It is just a lot of fun to get everybody out and let the high school kids fish. It is nice to be able to represent our hometown like this.”
His Ava High School teammate Colten Levan also had fun fishing for his school. “I absolutely love it,” he said.
Republic High anglers Brandon Durr and Hunter Gill have competed in various adult circuits and relished the chance to fish in this event. “This is a little different because everybody is our age and we are fishing as several teams for our school,” Durr said. “All in all I liked it and it was a lot of fun.”
“This was really fun fishing with same-age kids and we had a lot of boats,” Gill said. “I just liked it because it was all kids my age so I could actually see where I was in tournaments for my age group.”
Adult volunteers drove the 57 boats used to take the students fishing each day. One of the boat captains, Russ McBurney, has spent the last three months taking the Hillcrest High School anglers to various lakes and teaching them how to run a trolling motor, net fish and tie knots. “We just make time to spend with the kids,” McBurney said. “They are the next generation so we’ve got to get them focused on what the future is going to be. It was just a wonderful time to be with them.”
A large crowd of family and friends flocked to the weigh-in to see the students with their catches. “I think it is amazing,” Romona Scoggins said about the high school bass fishing program. “My son (Tre) has enjoyed it. In the last three months he has gone from not knowing anything about fishing to knowing quite a bit. He just got a truck and now he wants a boat. This is really an awesome thing for the young kids to get involved in a new sport.”
The tournament was a proud moment for Republic High School Coach Jim Huson, who organized the event and was instrumental in starting the MSHSAA bass fishing program. “My heart swells when I see all these kids out here from these different schools,” Huson said. “This is a great start for us that we have had as a vision since 2008. Ultimately I don’t know how it could have been more successful for us for our first year. “
Central Pro-Am Association handled the tournament registration and conducted the daily takeoffs and weigh-ins. This event was also special to the tournament’s emcee, Mike Webb, Central Pro-Am president, who has been running tournaments for 20 years. “None of them are as important to my wife and me as this one just because of the kids being involved. I think this will double in size by next year. This is the future of the sport and I see these people are going to be boaters one of these days and they are going to turn around and do the same thing we are doing now to hopefully keep this ball rolling.”
The Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau also sponsored the high school tournament. “We see the event as a great opportunity to support the students and the program,” said Terra Alphonso, assistant director of sports and convention sales for the chamber. “The (tournament) has been well organized. I am impressed with the care for the fish and the safety of the participants.”
For all of the results of the high school championship, go to www.webboutdoors.com/mo-high-school-championship.
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