John Neporadny, 58, has fished in Missouri since childhood, and now he’d like high school kids across the state to get in the game. In part because of Neporadny’s persistent efforts, the state on April 1 will open monthlong voting among school officials, asking if they favor sanctioning the sport of bass fishing and incorporating it as an activity on par with the likes of band and cheerleading.
“Not every kid is blessed with the God-given skill to run a 4.4 in the 40 or throw a 90 mile-an-hour fastball,’’ reminded Neporadny, a freelance outdoors writer, recently reached by phone at his home in Table Rock, Mo., a couple of hours southwest of St. Louis. “But anyone can learn how to cast.’’
According to Neporadny, the states of Illinois and Kentucky already have bass fishing offered to their high school students. Other high schools across the country, he said, are angling to do the same. Now, he feels, is the time to strike for the Show Me State.
“We’re on the ballot with chess and bowling,’’ mused Neporadny, who grew up outside St. Louis and first fished with his dad in the Mississippi River. “But we’re not really worried about them.
“We think we’ve got a pretty good shot. We only need 50 yes votes out of a total of somewhere around 700 schools. And all we’re hoping now is, ‘Hey, if you don’t want [bass fishing], just don’t cast a no vote.’ We’re hopeful it’s going to pass.’’
Bass fishing tournaments have been around since the 1960s, if not earlier, and expanded TV coverage in recent years, such as the popular Bassmaster Classic on ESPN, have lifted the sport’s profile and made a few of bass fishing’s top anglers rich in the process. The prize money and increasing media hype alone could spark the interest and imagination of some high schoolers.
“Sure, I think the winner of the Classic gets $500,000 in prize money,’’ said Neporadny, whose trophy catch remains the 12-pound, 6-ounce bass he hooked years ago in Mexico. “So I suppose if he markets himself right, he’s looking at making around $1 million.
“That’s a tough road to go, though — a tough life with a lot of traveling. But, sure, with endorsements and sponsorships and speaking engagements, there is some decent money in it.’’
Prize money and financial gain haven’t been the focus or raison d’etre of Neporadny and friends the last three years trying to convince the Missouri State High School Activities Association to sanction the sport. Bass fishing brings with it myriad benefits, said Neporadny, including such basics as some students working extra hard in the classroom to prop up their grades to remain part of a school’s fishing team, or, for some kids, simply the experience of being part of a team for the first time, or perhaps even winning a state championship.
It’s highly doubtful that high school bass fishing anywhere in the country ever will rival the profile of football or even, say, track and field or lacrosse. Nonetheless, many students take their school cheering teams and bands seriously, as do many of the colleges that scores of those high schoolers strive to attend. A student’s stake in the ground can be a line in the water.
For some kids, there is nothing more rewarding than the sport or activity that makes them feel like that big fish in the relatively small pond of high school. A fishing team or club can make that pond a little bigger, with the added benefit of possibly landing a big fish.
In years past, said Neporadny, he has heard parents of high schoolers request that the MSHSAA consider including such non-mainstream sports as rodeo and trap shooting.
“I know rodeo is popular in some places around the country,’’ he said. “But, come on — rodeo compared to the 68 million or so people who fish? Archery is getting big now, too, but you’ve got some risk there with arrows flying, and there’s some of that with trap shooting, too. I mean, do you really want a kid holding a gun?
“Put a fishing rod in his hand and I think it’s a little easier.’’
According to Neporadny, the cost of adding bass fishing to a school’s athletic/activities curriculum is relatively modest. In most cases, he said, the greatest expense, the boat itself, never occurs, with parents of students on the team most often loaning a boat to the school.
Often, he added, a local fishing or outdoors club will make a boat or two available. Interested students typically come equipped with their own rods and tackle. To be sanctioned by the MSHSAA, he noted, helps most in that the governing body’s insurance mitigates liability related to potential accident or injury.
“The most common accident in bass fishing is probably getting hooked,’’ he said. “That’s painful, but it’s not life-threatening.’’
Under the proposal being voted on next month by Missouri’s high school principals and/or athletic directors, students would not be allowed to operate boats. Instead, that would be the charge of a coach or perhaps volunteer instructor, who, in some cases, could be the parent of a team member.
“That’s another great thing about fishing,’’ said Neporadny. “First of all, it’s something you can do for a lifetime. And then, in cases like this, you could actually have parents out there sharing the sport with their kids. That’s not something you see happen in football.’’
The vote, like the boat, is out in Missouri. We’ll know May 1 if bass fishing sinks, swims, or is the one that got away.