MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama teen Zeke Gossett has witnessed firsthand the rise of competitive high school bass fishing over the past four years.
Now a high school junior, Gossett and partner Hayden Bartee will be among the competitors at the first B.A.S.S. High School Classic Exhibition on Saturday, the latest big event created for young anglers. They'll weigh their catches before the pros competing in the Bassmaster Classic take the same Birmingham stage.
"The high school stuff really rolled around when I was in seventh grade," said Gossett, 17, of Pell City, Ala. "I was the first boat out, my dad and I, in one of the first high school tournaments ever held in Alabama. The increase in tournaments in high school has just been unbelievable. There used to only be one or two trips max. Last year, we were holding 250-boat tournaments each time."
The high school exhibition will feature 10 teams from five states — Alabama, Ohio, Tennessee, South Carolina and Indiana — at Lay Lake, while the pros compete at Lake Guntersville on the other side of Birmingham. Both will weigh their catches at the BJCC Arena.
This event is just the latest addition to the growing ranks of bass fishing tournaments for high school students. It's no threat to replace football or basketball, but opportunities abound for fishing lovers and aspiring pros like Gossett and Bartee, also 17.
The high school associations in Illinois, Kentucky and New Hampshire sanction bass fishing as a sport or activity and hold state championships. Some 235 teams compete in Illinois, which became the first state to sanction high school bass fishing in 2008-09.
In Missouri, it's recognized as an emerging activity with 30 schools participating, said Kerwin Urhahn, executive director of the Missouri State High School Activities Association. He said the association requires two years with 50 schools registering to organize a season and championship competition.