Tips For Starting a New Program

The following interview was conducted by B.A.S.S. Senior Writer John Neporadny with Casey Kelly, volunteer coach of the Regina-Dominican Catholic High School for girls in Wilmette, Ill., that qualified for the Illinois High School Bass Fishing Championship.

Kelly’s answers could serve as a blueprint for Missouri high schools wanting to set up a fishing program.

Q. What was the process you had to go through to become coach of the team?

Kelly: The school’s athletic director put out a solicitation that the school was interested in any adult who wanted to help the school with the bass program. There were several adults who expressed interest and I went through the interview process with the athletic director I was chosen for the position because of my past involvement with B.A.S.S. and my experience with the Illinois BASS Federation Nation (as a member of the North Shore Bass Anglers club).

Since bass fishing was considered an activity rather than a sanctioned sport I didn’t have to go through all of the Illinois high School Activities Association’s (IHSA) process required for a basketball or football coach. Since Regina-Dominican is an all-girls Catholic school I went through the training program from the Archdioceses of Chicago and I also did CPR/ First Aid training and a lifeguard water safety program. The Archdiocese also did a background check on me.

Q. What activities did you do with the students throughout the course of the year?

Kelly: We had the whole learning curve from 0 to 100 to fill because several of the team members had never fished before. So we started from Ground Zero. We started by learning about rods and reels, lines and knots. Once I felt the girls were comfortable with that, then we moved into learning about hooks, lures, weights and everything else. So we took a real systematic approach where we would take one of the elements in fishing and talk about it for about a half-hour to an hour that day. I would give a little presentation from a subject I would pull up out of Bassmaster Magazine or another fishing magazine and try to explain that to the kids. I also had several fishing DVDs in my archives and I would show those to the girls for a half-hour or 45 minutes. Then I tried to coordinate what we had been talking about with what was shown on the DVD. That way the girls could really see what we were talking about.
Then the last half hour to 45 minutes that we would meet would set aside for casting. The Illinois high school kids used the Bassmasters Casting Kids format for their casting practices. So we would set up little casting areas with the CastingKids targets. It got to where the girls thought they were so good that they didn’t want to cast to those targets anymore so we just put out 3- or 4- inch garden pots that they could flip and pitch to instead.

Q. How often did you have events or meetings?

Kelly: We would meet twice a week from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and if time permitted on the weekends we would hold a shore fishing event.

Because of the weather here we didn’t start any fishing events until March 1. We didn’t have ice out until April 15 so we ended up doing at least six shore events.

Q. How did you qualify your anglers for the state tournament series?

Kelly: We used a participation format to qualify our anglers for the state team. We would give participation points for the students who attended our meetings and events. That way it didn’t preclude students from doing other activities such as volleyball or softball. It just made it harder for them to make up points for the end of the season. Illinois allowed three anglers per boat so the top six anglers in our club had the opportunity to fish in the regional event.

Q. What expenses did the program incur and how much do you think it cost the school?

Kelly: I really tried to minimize the cost to the students as well as the school. The school’s cost was mainly in gasoline and transportation to and from the events. The school did not supply the kids with any equipment. I was fortunate to contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and they graciously donated 25 rods and reels to our program. I contacted a couple local lure manufacturers and distributors and they graciously supplied us with some lures.
I was also paid but since I was not considered a faculty member but a volunteer coach, the school gave me a small gratuity for the work that I did. I have seen solicitations from some of the public schools for bass fishing coaches and they are offering very nice packages for the volunteer position.

Kelly said anyone who wanted to start a fishing program at their high school can call him at 847-475-6717 for more advice.

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