Mark Gintert might just have the best job in America. An avid outdoorsman and a successful businessman, Gintert is the national youth director of The Bass Federation, which means he gets to work with young people across the land to introduce them to the joys of fishing through high school fishing clubs.
"Studies show that six out of 10 children in high school participate in no extra-curricular activity," he says. "A lot of kids may not have the talent or motivation to play football or basketball, but everybody can fish - no matter your size, income level, nationality or gender. For some students, fishing clubs have become their motivation to stay in school."
Along the way, the former school board member from Ohio takes the opportunity to use the sport as a means of promoting education.
Gintert says: "We stress the educational components of fishing such as math, science and language arts as we teach young people to fish." Hopefully, deep-pocketed, out-of-state special interest ideologues, their political sycophants and the education bureaucrats can't find a way to get their mitts on the pleasure that comes from teaching a child to fish. But I worry.
Gintert says parents come to him and thank him for getting their child engaged in a high school fishing club. They tell him they have never had a reason to cheer for their child or for the school and now they can and do.
I had called Gintert to talk about the upcoming High School Fishing Southeastern Conference Championship which will take place this Saturday at Lake Lanier. The competition will consist of high school teams from eight Southeastern states - including Georgia - that finished in the top 10 percent of their respective state championships.
Competing at Gainesville will be last year's Georgia state champion Evans High School from Columbia County, Hall County's East Hall High School, two schools from Forsyth County - North Forsyth and West Forsyth - Whitewater High School in Fayette County and the Georgia Student Angler Federation, a community club from Kennesaw in Cobb County.
Each team is composed of two students, grades 7-12, and their coach who will provide the boat so the kids can concentrate on snatching up the bass lurking in Lake Lanier. The event is open to the public.
The top 10 percent of the winners at the Southeastern Conference championship will move on to the national championship along with those from four other conference championships across the country.
The site for that event is yet to be determined. What is definite is that each of the two national champions receives a $5,000 scholarship. One of last year's champions, Tyler Black, of Catawba, N.C., is coming back to defend his title.
Obviously, they do more than play basketball in North Carolina.
Gintert says that there are some 28 high school fishing clubs across Georgia from Fannin County in the north to Thomas County in the south with more than 600 students participating. Nationwide, the number is expected to reach more than 1,000 clubs and 15,000 young anglers by the end of this year. That is remarkable given the program is only a couple of years old.
It is not hard to start a high school fishing club.
Gintert says, "There is a $25 entry fee per student and the cost to the school is minuscule." You can get more information at www.highschoolfishing.org.
Four states: Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and New Hampshire have made fishing a sanctioned sport in their high schools, like football and baseball, but Gintert doesn't encourage that.
"Most high school athletic associations don't have the structure to manage our sport properly," he says.
I agree. Leave the kids alone and let them enjoy fishing and the life lessons to be learned from the experience.
And there are great lessons to be learned - not only math and science and language arts - but patience and peacefulness, the symmetry and rhythm of nature and the reminder that we must take care of our environment now and for future generations; not to mention the fact that you can't catch a bass with a cellphone app. That alone is worth the effort.
While we on the Governor's Education Reform Commission labor to figure out how we can best provide a quality education for our young people, I would suggest we remember the proverb, "Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day; teach him how to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime."
The Bass Federation is doing just that.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at email@example.com; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.