Other Varsity Sports

Wichita-area team shows high school fishing is growing in Kansas ... and quickly

The Bluestem High School fishing team is helping grow the sport's popularity in Kansas.
The Bluestem High School fishing team is helping grow the sport's popularity in Kansas. Courtesy of Darren Jackson

Decked out in decals and carrying high school athletes to and from tournaments, it is basically a school bus.

Bluestem High School bought a boat for its club fishing team that travels to compete across the United States, most recently in Alabama at Lake Pickwick for the High School Fishing World Finals. The school paid for the boat and pays for the gas.

It is the only school-sponsored boat in Kansas, and maybe the U.S.

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High school fishing is not an interscholastic sport for the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA), but teams compete through membership to Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) and the Kansas Bass Anglers Sportsmans Society (B.A.S.S.).

Bluestem does not pay for the team's memberships or tournament fees, but the Lions' booster club has given hundreds of dollars to help the club with accessories like jerseys and banners.

Maybe the wildest part: The club was created only two years ago.

Darren Jackson, club sponsor and Bluestem resource officer, started the club with a handful of anglers and went to a couple of tournaments. He said in 2018, students from neighboring Butler County high schools have asked to transfer to compete on the team.

"Kansas is starting to grow like it is on trap shooting," Jackson said. "You get down to Texas or over into Louisiana and Kentucky, there's 700 boats for their state competition.

"For trap shooting, Texas had 60 kids for their state tournament. Colorado had 40. We had 800-something."

Jackson said he has talked with club representatives from a handful of other schools in the Wichita area, many of which come from Butler County, but Bluestem was the first Kansas team to compete at the world finals. They are one of hundreds of teams to take Lake Pickwick starting Tuesday.

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The Lions' appearance in Alabama is a small but mighty step.

Some have approached Jackson asking what the next step will be, he said. People have asked whether the club is part of KSHSAA. The answer is no, at least not yet.

KSHSAA director-elect Bill Faflick said he has never received a request from any school to make high school fishing a interscholastic sport. But he said it is certainly possible.

Faflick said 24 schools have to have fishing teams, or teams of any sport for that matter. Once that prerequisite has been met, the item will go before the board of directors with a vote.

Executives will probe at the sport's feasibility given the budget, championship possibilities and possible logistic issues. If the vote passes, it will go to the regional board, and if it passes that, the handbook would have to be changed, and it would become the 22nd KSHSAA sport.

Right now, most teams in Kansas are composed of students from several schools. Teams in Topeka and Overland Park take anglers from a handful of high schools. In order to be a KSHSAA-sponsored sport, all anglers would need to come from the same school.

Teams would also have to cancel their memberships with FLW and B.A.S.S. Those organizations offer prizes like tackle, rods and reels for winning, and at the world championship, each angler on the winning team came home with a $22,000 scholarship.

It is a lengthy process with its share of hoops to jump through, but there is good news. Girls wrestling will go before the regional board for a vote in August, so it is possible. And maybe even better, Faflick said KSHSAA is always willing to listen.

"These are things that are best from the grassroots up," he said. "We think it's cool that there is fishing in our Kansas schools. That doesn't mean that we need to be the ones in charge of it, but when the schools say, 'Hey, we'd like to have you provide that administrative oversight, we're happy to support them in that regard."

For now though, high school fishing seems to have found its niche. Small, rural communities have rallied behind their club fishing teams. Bluestem and Leon are the prime example.

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The Bluestem fishing team will compete for a world title starting Tuesday. Courtesy of Darren Jackson

Jackson said, "I wish we had that while I was in school," is the most common feedback he hears. At the Harvest Home Festival in Leon, people ask if the club members can roll their boats through the parade and throw candy to the kids on the sides of the streets.

"We've got great support from our school board, the superintendent is in favor of it," Jackson said. "The principal is in on it, and the community loves it."

The fishing club has also given students another opportunity to compete. Jackson's son, DJ, plays on the basketball team at Bluestem, and he said getting the chance to fish competitively in Oklahoma, Missouri and at a global tournament is one he won't forget.

"It's cool because not many kids can say they can go and do this for their school," he said. "It's kinda like making it to state in softball or any other sport."

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