Drake King tried high school football. It wasn’t his thing.
He’s more the hunting-fishing type, which in the past meant there wasn’t a competitive high school sports team for him.
Now there is.
High school fishing teams are popping up all over the state; there are 17 so far, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
King, a Chapin High junior, will join students from many of those teams Saturday at The Bass Federation of South Carolina Junior Championship on Lake Murray. Chapin and White Knoll are the only schools with teams in Richland and Lexington counties.
The natural resources agency has provided guidance — part of its bid to get more kids involved in outdoors activities — but most of the teams have bubbled up on their own from student interest. King was the impetus behind the Chapin team.
“It’s the one sport that I absolutely love to do,” King said. “I heard about other (high school) teams and decided to try to get one going here. It was very stressful; it still is. It was all me at first getting it started.”
He had to recruit at least six other students willing to pay the $40 fee to join a national high school fishing organization and the $30 in gas money they’re required to give to the owners of boats they use in tournaments. They had to find adults willing to drive boats for them during competition. And they had to find a school representative willing to take responsibility for a new program.
Ken Wilson already coached wrestling and football at Chapin, but he was willing to pick up another sport.
“If I’m not coaching, I’m fishing, so I figured why not?” Wilson said. “Anytime you get a chance to get a group of kids together to do a worthwhile thing, I can’t turn them down.”
He found that King and the other young anglers didn’t need a lot of coaching. “I’ve been in charge of running the meetings,” Wilson said. “But those kids are in charge of running the show.”
King eventually rounded up nine students who loved to fish and had the time to devote to the sport. Because the team got a late start on this season, only six anglers managed to fish in at least two qualifying tournaments, a requirement for entry in the state tournament. One two-man Chapin entry — Brad Williamson and Cory Powers — managed to finish third at the S.C. High School State Bass Fishing Championships on Lake Greenwood in April.
Fishing isn’t an official S.C. High School League-sanctioned sport yet. So the team of Hampton Anderson and Eli Rowland of T.L. Hanna, who won the Lake Greenwood event, won’t be listed in the state high school sports record books. The depository for high school fishing records is www.highschoolfishing.org, where Anderson already has two entries. He won the 2011 state title with teammate Harrison Bramlette, who graduated that year.
The tournaments are similar to professional bass fishing events. Anglers weigh in a maximum of five fish caught during a specified period. Heaviest total wins.
White Knoll assistant principal John Nix was the impetus behind the White Knoll team, inspired by an email from DNR detailing how to start a program.
“As assistant principal, you do a lot of discipline and negative stuff with the kids,” Nix said. “I wanted them to see something positive.”
After he made an announcement about the possibility of starting a team, about 30 kids initially signed up. Only about a dozen showed up at the first meeting, and only six stuck it out. That’s just enough because most tournaments require three two-person teams.
“They’re really committed to it,” Nix said. “Those six aren’t competing in any other sports. This allows something for students who aren’t involved in those other sports.”
The White Knoll pair of Chadwick Wiggins and William Widener finished fourth in the Lake Greenwood event.
While they spend some time practicing fishing on the lake, the high school anglers spend as much time reading and researching about fish habitat and habits. It’s much more involved and detailed than you might think.
“This whole sport of bass fishing is not just going out with crickets and worms and sitting on the bank,” Nix said.
King has learned about when the fish spawn, why they go for different bait at different times of the year, why they’re more active at various times of the day or at various depths in the water. He has also gained a new appreciation for his father, who drives the boat for him and his fishing teammate.
“We couldn’t do this without parent support,” King said. “My dad has done anything and everything to help me with this.”
As word has gotten out about the team, other students have come to King asking about joining.
“I have people now coming to me begging to be on the team,” he said. “Next year, we’re going to have enough that we’ll have to go to a point system to determine who’s in the top six.”