Last fall, Payson High School counselor Don Heizer hosted an evening meeting to see if there was enough interest among students to form a school bass fishing club.
Apparently there was curiosity, because 10 students have signed up to participate in a PHS-hosted tournament that will be held May 21 at Roosevelt Lake.
The tournament begins at 7 a.m. at Cholla Ramp and weigh-in is at 2 p.m. at the same ramp.
Heizer says hosting the first-ever tournament was not a one-person project in that a number of organizations joined in the effort to sponsor the event.
He cites the National Guard, Every Kid Counts, Circle K, Bass Pro Shops, Cabalas, Arizona Game and Fish, the Fish and Wildlife Service and FLW for their contributions.
Also the PHS Outdoor Conservation Education Club is involved, but Heizer stresses it is not one of the sponsors.
Heizer calls the upcoming fishing fray, “more than just a fishing tournament — we will have students who want to learn about what goes on at a weigh-in and how to safely handle fish so they are returned unharmed to the lake.
“Our local organization wants to involve students and parents in learning to sustain the resources and the beauty we live in.”
There are 76 youth fishing clubs in existence in the country, but most are based in the southeastern United States where bass fishing is a way of life and lakes and waterways are plentiful.
“Our goal is to bring these clubs to the Southwest,” Heizer said. “There is a lot of interest among the (Payson) high school students.”
Heizer and other organizers were motivated to jump-start a local club because they staunchly believe that fishing is a sport which everyone can enjoy their entire lifetimes and it is a way to keep teens out of trouble.
“If we can get them on the lake, we will get them off the streets,” said Heizer.
Students with special aptitudes also have the option of trying to make a living on the professional circuit as PHS alumni Clifford Pirch now does.
The first step in beginning a Payson club was to invite Arizona professional fisherman Keith Espe and Brian Chamberlain of Every Kid Counts to visit PHS and talk to students.
The pair was on campus Dec. 8, 2010 speaking to teacher Jaydee Garner’s animal science classes.
Espe, of New River, won the FLW National Guard Western Series tournament held Sept. 22-25 at Roosevelt Lake.
Chamberlain is an official in the Every Kid Counts charity in Phoenix that has been dedicated to helping children in need for more than 16 years.
The programs EKC provides are designed to help today’s youth become tomorrow’s leaders through educational, athletic and philanthropic efforts.
In July 2010 a Valley team EKC sponsors, the Desert Bassbusters, took second place in the inaugural High School Fishing World Finals on Lake Dardanelle in Arkansas.
On the team were Thomas Chambers, a senior at North Canyon High and Brand Koon, a junior at Shadow Mountain.
While Heizer has taken the lead in hosting the upcoming tournament and forming the fishing club, he’s now soliciting help from others.
“Parents will also be huge in this,” said Heizer. “Once we get the ball rolling with this, we want to hand it off to parents.”
For more information about the club, call Heizer at (928) 474-2233.