By SASHA JOHNS / Community Columnist
“They are learning life lessons about relationships, teamwork, and how to preserve the future for the rest of us.” These are the words of Heather Keller, fishing coach for the Shelby County High School fishing team as she explained why the unexpected high school sport can make a difference in the lives of kids who may not otherwise find a place in other more traditional school programs.
The anglers of SCHS, unlike some other extracurricular teams, work together through the entire school year. This year, they are competing in two year-long trails and most recently won a cash prize as a team that they used to buy a much needed tailgate tent to use at future competitions.
Sixteen anglers make up the team at the most historic high school in the county. Their location near Lay Lake also affords them easy access to experience and participate in big events like the recent Bassmasters competition in December. This year, two students, Hall Hobbs (senior) and Kai Barnett (junior) had the unusual opportunity to compete in this prestigious event.
“Any time we can get our students in front of the professionals at events like Bassmasters, we do it,” Keller said.
Six of the team anglers as well as two of their younger tag-along mascots volunteered to sanitize the bags used to weigh fish at the tournament.
“It was a great opportunity for these kids because as the professionals lined up and waited to have their fish weighed, our anglers had the chance to meet and chat with these big names in the sport and gather tips from them,” she said.
Further excitement came with team mascots, Landon Keller, and Emiliegh Jo Long, younger siblings of two of the team anglers, showed up in famed fisherman Brian Latimer’s YouTube videos from the event.
“Latimer was amazing. He took a lot of time with our kids from the team. He talked with them, signed hats, and shared tips that helped him in the conditions that day,” Keller shared.
The fishing program at SCHS, in addition to teaching conservation and teamwork, has also provided kids with exposure to groups like Coosa River Keepers, and organization that teaches the community to safeguard its local waterways. Exposure to this organization and others offers them chances to “practice” their sport in a way that not only helps the environment but protects it for the students coming along behind them.
“We even have some anglers that have managed to go to school on fishing scholarships,” coach Keller said.
SCHS graduate Ethan King is now studying at the University of Montevallo on the scholarship he won his senior year of high school. Proof that while fishing may not be the first thing that first comes to mind when you think of high school sports, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t play a vital role in the lives and futures of some students who find a place to grow in this important sport.