Pros Team with Disabled Anglers for “Outdoors Without Limits” BassTourney in Pike Co.
Grantland Rice said, "It matters not whether you win or lose. It’s how you play the game."
Too often it seems Mr. Rice was mistaken about that. But then, there are times when winning really doesn’t matter. It is just "how you play the game."
The "game" has never been played any better than it was when Campbell Enterprises of Troy teamed up with Outdoors Without Limits (OWL) to host the "Catch a Smile" Bass Fishing Tournament and "Bream Buster" event at Campbell lakes near Banks in rural Pike County June 25 and 26.
Eleven BASS Elite professional anglers participated in the two-day tournament a benefit for Outdoors Without Limits and an opportunity for 11 individuals with disabilities to realize their dreams of fishing with a pro. The Bream Buster event offered free fishing to an unlimited number of kids and adults with disabilities on Saturday.
Kirk Thomas, OWL founder and executive, mentioned the idea of a professional bass fishing to Christopher Campbell, who is a strong supporter of the Pike County OWL Chapter, Campbell went for it hook, line and sinker.
"I knew it would take a lot of work, but I thought it was something we could do," Campbell said. "The Pike County OWL Chapter’s Great Adventure deer hunt has been such a great success and I thought offering a fishing event for individuals with disabilities would be a good idea. A fishing tournament would give people with disabilities a chance to do something we take for granted. It would also help raise awareness of OWL and all the good it does in its efforts to provide outdoor opportunities for people with disabilities."
The BASS Elite anglers fished both days with an individual with disabilities in their boats and the five biggest fish were weighed and entered in the two-day competition. So, both fishing partners were "in the game" but it "mattered not" who won or lost, only "how the game was played."
Pam Martin-Wells, arguably the top professional female angler in the country, fished with a young man, Kiefer Collins from Clay, who said he had the time of his life.
"It was so much fun," Collins said. "I don’t think we got the biggest fish, but we had fun."
Martin-Wells agreed that at the "Catch a Smile" Tournament "fun" came before "fish."
"We’ve had a good time and that’s what this is all about," she said. "I’ve been fishing professionally for 23 years so I’ve had my day. This today is what it’s all about. If I can make one kid smile, then it’s been a great day of fishing."
If smiles were fish, then the tournament netted the biggest catch ever.
Thomas said the "Catch a Smile" tournament and "Bream Buster" event were what OWL is all about.
"Catch a Smile" brought professional anglers and dreamers together and their dreams became reality.
"Everybody has dreams and today dreams came true," Thomas said. "The professional anglers fished with people who have overcome obstacles in their lives and believe dreams do come true. For them, to have a chance to fish with professional anglers they see on TV is a highlight of their lives. It’s something they can brag about and something they will never forget.
"And their determination and uplifting attitude is an inspiration to the professional anglers. To see the joy and excitement catching a fish — no matter how big or small — brings to others puts what these professional anglers do every day into perspective."
If the big one got away, so what?
"It’s been fun," said pro angler Shaw Grigsby. "This tournament has been an opportunity for me to give something back by doing something I enjoy. It’s inspiring to be around those who have overcome tremendous odds and have stayed positive in the process. It’s amazing to see how they go after life two-handed. This has been an eye-opening experience for me. A good experience, a positive experience."
Pro angler Greg Hackney said Campbell lakes is a great place to fish and the "Catch a Smile" tournament is the "funnest" tournament he has ever fished.
The fact Hackney and his partner, Tony Luisi of Vineland, NJ, won the weigh-in, at 46.9 pounds, and also pulled in the biggest fish at 7.9 pounds had less to do with Hackney’s fun-fishing day than with the man from Jersey.
Luisi drove 17 hours one-way to fish the tournament, but said the drive back home won’t be nearly so long. He’ll be on cloud nine "all the way."
"I’ve always loved to fish, but, after my accident, I never thought I would have a chance to do anything like this," Luisi said. "If we hadn’t caught a fish, it still would have been the best thing that has happened to me in a long time. If I get a chance, I’ll be back and I just want to thank all of those who made it possible for me and all the others like me who don’t often get a chance to do something like this."
Chance Veasey came over from the Peach State to do what he loves to do, fish. But now fishing is not something he can pick up and do. It seemed athletics had "always" been a part of Veasey’s life. About eight months ago, he was at the University of Georgia and a member of the baseball team. Then, a vehicle accident left him confined to a wheelchair, but it didn’t take away his competitive spirit or his zest for life.
"I know that I might never walk again and I’ve adjusted to that," he said.
"When you play sports, you learn to adjust to different situations and that has helped me. But being here and being able to compete with professional anglers lets me know there are things I can still do and be successful. I’m thankful for this opportunity and for those who made it possible."
Kenny Campbell of Troy gave his son, Christopher, credit for putting his heels to the fire and to all the volunteers who stepped up to make dreams come true.
"I do what little I can to help out, but a lot of people worked really hard to make the fishing tournament a success," Campbell said. "By all accounts, it was a success and there’s talk of making it an annual event. That would be a good thing to do."
Christopher Campbell said he was pleased with every aspect of the tournament and considered it an unqualified success.
"It was a great opportunity for people to come out and meet some of the biggest names in professional bass fishing and it helped raise awareness of OWL and all the good it does," he said. "But most of all, it was an opportunity for people with disabilities to do something in the outdoors they really enjoy…a chance to fish."
Hank Parker, whose Outdoor Magazine is one of the most popular fishing programs on television, had nothing but good things to say about the tournament.
"This is what fishing is all about," he said. "It says a lot about these world-class anglers and their commitment to Outdoors Without Limits and about people of all ages who are turning their disabilities into abilities and having fun and success in the outdoors."
The "Catch a Smile" bass fishing tournament will be televised on Hank Parker’s Outdoor Magazine to 3.5 million people from January through May-June.
"That’s a lot of exposure for OWL and for the ‘Catch a Smile’ fishing tournament. It’s a great tournament. There were a lot more smiles out here than crickets and that’s what this tournament was all about," Thomas said.
Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.