Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Jeff Goodrich, athletic director of Essex High School in Essex Junction, Vermont, regarding how he and other athletic directors in Vermont were able to have bass fishing become recognized as a high school sport in Vermont. Essex High School, which is the second largest high school in the state with an enrollment of 1278 students, has a strong tradition in athletics and performing arts and offers numerous high school sports and activities for its student body. However, Goodrich wanted to add one more, bass fishing, one of the fastest-growing sports across the country.
How did the interest in bass fishing as a high school sport begin?
Several years ago, a few athletic directors discussed the fact that bass fishing was a growing high school sport and that our neighboring state, New Hampshire, had been running it as a fall sport for the past several years. Bri Barnes, athletic director at Oxbow High School on the other side of the state, and I started working on gathering information about what it would take to make it a reality in Vermont.
What were the first steps taken in making that possible?
We were able to get a great deal of support from our friends in New Hampshire, especially Sean Graves, a teacher and bass fisherman in Keene, who shared their procedures, experiences, pitfalls, adjustments and success stories. We also reached out and gained the support of Bernie Pientka from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department as well as Chris Weber, president of the Champlain Bass Series. Both were very helpful in laying the groundwork to support bass fishing at the high school level.
Once we had gathered enough information and support, two Essex High School students – Austin Trask and Sam Smith – and I presented to our state association, the Vermont Principals’ Association’s Activities Standards Committee. We asked for its support in starting bass fishing as an exhibition sport in the Fall of 2018. It received unanimous support and we were on our way for the first season.
What concerns did the organizers have about starting this sport?
Our biggest initial concern was “Would we be able to secure enough boats and captains to make this season a reality safely?” Chris Weber and the many volunteers from the Champlain Bass Series were the magic that made that happen. Several of the participating schools relied on the generous volunteerism of their community members who donated their time and access to their boats to get our student-athletes on the water allowing them to participate.
An additional concern was ensuring that the participating schools were in compliance with all of the standard rules and regulations and providing a process for coaches to become certified and prepared for the season. We also worked to make sure that participating schools would be covered through our statewide school insurance provider in the same way as other school-sponsored activities.
How did the first year go (schools involved, students involved, awards given)?
The first year was a tremendous success. We had 15 schools from across Vermont and almost 100 anglers – from freshmen to seniors – participate in our inaugural season. Some of our school teams were from communities that do not have a bass fishing lake in their area. We followed the New Hampshire model and held two tournaments – a mid-season event in September and a state championship in October – that were highly competitive and had two different schools crowned champions. Many schools fielded two teams and often their second team did as well or better than their first team.
What are the plans for next year?
For 2019, we are offering the same two competitions while increasing the assistance provided by our supporting organizations. Both of our tournaments will again be held on the Lake Champlain’s Inland Sea, supported by John Guilmette through the use of his launch in South Hero. Apple Island Marina has joined us as a supporter for 2019 and will be providing access to parking and dock space for our spectators and participants. We are hoping that more people come out to watch and support this sport that teaches a lifelong skill and thus provides a lifetime of enjoyment.
What was learned from this process (both good and challenging)?
While we knew it would take a tremendous amount of support from groups not normally associated with high school athletics, we were pleased that so many stepped up to assist. We are thankful to each and every group, organization, association and individual that provided what was needed to make this sport a reality so quickly. The volunteers were all very excited about the opportunity to work with our student-athletes to fuel their passion for fishing and share their knowledge and love of the sport. We caught a lot of positive energy and some incredible fish.
If your state is interested in adding bass fishing as a high school sport, please contact Jeff Goodrich via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Essex High School, 2 Educational Lane, Essex Junction, Vermont 05452.
Steffen Parker, a member of the High School Today Publications Committee, is a music educator, computer geek and instructional support specialist from Vermont, where he organizes music festivals and supports other states with online services for their events.