“It’s fun hitting people,” says Helias High School sophomore Hudsen Lee as a sly smile comes across his face.
Hudsen is standing next to me along the banks of Binder Lake in Jefferson City as he casts his fishing line into the water. He’s talking about his love for football, the competition, the speed and the contact. He was on track to become a starting linebacker on the Crusader’s football team by the time he got into high school, but his life took a twist.
“When the doctor first came in, he didn’t sugar coat it,” says Lee. “He told me I either had a life-threatening infection or cancer.”
Not the type of news any 13-year old kid should ever have to hear. Lee, now 16, is getting healthier and will soon be finished with his cancer treatments and he told me he just started working out again. However, football is not in his plans.
He needed an outlet to feed his competitive spirit and he teamed up with his friend Trent Distler. They, along with a small group of students, started a competitive fishing club at their high school. Distler and Lee recently competed in the Teen Angler Championship on Stockton Lake in June, with over 80 boats from 25 schools. The duo, who have only been fishing together for about three years, took third place.
Southwest Missouri is the hotbed for competitive high school anglers and Hudsen said it was pretty cool for them to finish as well as they did.
“They’ve got a lot of boats and a lot of good fisherman. We ended up doing pretty good against them,” said Hudsen.
(Watch more from Hudsen and Trent)
When Hudsen and Trent are fishing in tournaments, they say they’re not competing against the other teams, but rather the fish.
“There’s more pressure to catch more fish, but you also want to have fun, like you usually do,” says Distler. “You want to have confidence you’re going to catch fish.”
Groups and websites like missourihighschoolanglers.com have been working with MSHSAA for the last few years to initiate bass fishing as a sanctioned activity in high schools throughout the state. The group met in the summer of 2009 with Dr. Kerwin Urhahn, MSHSAA executive director, who said the program would be a good one for the schools. However, he said it is up to the group to convince individual high school principals throughout the state to approve such a program.
MSHSAA requires participation from 50 schools in order to hold a sanctioned state championship. Right now there are less than 40 schools. How one goes about getting a club or team formed at a school is actually pretty simple according to Distler.
“I asked around (Helias) and tried to get the athletic director to get a club started,” said Distler. “A lot of my friends in Kansas City fish in tournaments and I thought it would be cool to fish like that.”
Competitive fishing is not just a guy thing either. Both Hudsen and Trent told me they saw several girls out on the water and they have a girl in their club as well. As competitive as these young anglers are about wanting to catch the most fish, there is a special comradery among the teams from different schools.
“It’s fun talking to them (anglers from other schools), talking about fishing, getting to know them, making friends and maybe going fishing with them sometime,” says Hudsen.
The goal is to grow awareness for the sport. Both Hudsen and Trent believe that if more schools get involved, they can have bigger and better competition and more tournaments across the state.
Whether you are a student looking to start a club at your school, or an administrator interested in bringing this on board, MSHSAA offers links and advice on how to get started.
The sport is growing with great corporate sponsorships and schools already involved are hoping they reach the levels necessary to create a MSHSAA state championship. Missouri anglers became interested in promoting the cause after neighboring Illinois became the first state to sanction bass fishing as a high school activity. Now more than 200 schools participate in the Illinois program.