By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—It’s official: IU Southeast now has a student bass fishing club.
That’s big—no exaggeration.
It all started when John Hibbard, IU Southeast’s communication and CRM specialist, was eating lunch by Grenadier Lake.
He noticed a student nearby with a line in the water.
Hibbard, a lifelong fisherman, asked the usual questions about lures, lines, favorite spots. After a while, the student became reflective.
“I wish we had a bass fishing club here,” he said.
The comment, both off-hand and heartfelt, stirred Hibbard’s memories of his own youth, when he would fish in anything from farm ponds to large lakes. He fished from his first boat, a 12-foot aluminum boat with a 9.5 horsepower engine his dad had bought him, for 35 years, eventually graduating to the beast he owns today, a 21-foot Ranger Z520 with a 250-horse engine that can do 70 miles per hour.
Reverie yielded to epiphany: Why not start a bass fishing club at IU Southeast?
Fishing is big in our area. And bass fishing is big on college campuses across the country, where teams vie for big prizes and a flash of glory on ESPN.
(Interestingly enough, the first competitive college tournament took place in 1992, when Purdue University beat Indiana University by a measly three pounds.)
There are more than 600 teams and clubs nationwide competing in four leagues—the Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) Outdoors College Series, Carhartt Bassmaster College Series and Cabela’s Collegiate Bass Fishing Series, and the Fishlife Collegiate Tour.
Students ink sponsorship deals and compete for real money—there are no NCAA restrictions here, because bass fishing clubs are just that, clubs.
“This is a level playing field,” Hibbard said. “There are heavy hitters like Alabama and LSU, with their own boats—and boatloads of money—but smaller schools with a fraction of their enrollment and funding are competitive.”
For example, tiny Tusculum College (2,600 students) advanced to the FLW national championship round last year by beating the University of Georgia and 246 other schools.
Small wonder that Hibbard’s idea wouldn’t leave him alone.
He took it to Joe Glover, IU Southeast athletic director, to see if something could be done through Athletics.
Glover was supportive. He agreed to sponsor it, and shared some insights about how to go about getting the club approved.
“Being a club sport means that the group is sanctioned to represent IU Southeast in outside competition against other colleges and universities in a club sport setting,” Glover said. “Club sports have less regulation than varsity sports and are more closely related to a student group on campus, with strong self-representation and decision-making.”
His confidence boosted, Hibbard presented the idea to Chris Crews, director of admissions.
Crews immediately connected with the idea, and agreed to become part of the leadership team.
Like Hibbard, Crews had grown up with fishing.
“It was a typical family activity,” Crews said. “When I was in junior high and high school, many of our family vacations were fishing trips to Missouri and Canada.”
Crews said Hibbard’s idea had him “hooked” from the get-go.
Like Hibbard, with whom he closely collaborates, Crews also recognized the club’s potential for boosting recruitment.
“We live in an area that is rich with great fishing locations, including ponds, rivers and lakes,” Crews said. “For many students, fishing and being outdoors is part of their heritage.”
Glover was equally positive about the role the club could play in students’ academic lives.
“This new club will get more students involved, and data shows that the more engaged students are, the better they perform academically,” Glover said.
To gauge interest, Hibbard and Crews decided to drop their line into the campus community.
They posted a flyer, and sat back to see if anything bit.
Expecting 2-3 students, Hibbard and Crews were stunned when 13 showed up to the initial meeting.
The students took the line and went with it. Within three meetings, the group had drafted bylaws, elected officers and submitted paperwork to be recognized as IU Southeast’s first club sport, with over 20 members—at last count.
Atom Ward, a sophomore from Charlestown, Ind. majoring in business management, was elected club president.
Ward brings a good deal of local experience to the role, having fished for bass since middle school and competed in tournaments with his father since high school.
Ward is an accomplished angler who appreciates the nuances of the pastime.
“Being able to catch a fish is one thing, but finding a fish on big bodies of water is one of the toughest things to do,” Ward said.
Being able to judge weather changes, barometric pressure, the phase of the moon, water temperature, the length of the day, fish behavior and other factors is what makes bass fishing a skill to be taken seriously.
Besides his understanding of fishing, Ward also brings serious organizational chops, as a member of Kappa Sigma. Last summer he was one of four delegates from the IU Southeast chapter to attend the organization’s national leadership conference, where he learned how to make groups more productive.
Ward envisions the club having a broad appeal, and being home to members with a competitive drive as well as those with a more recreational interest.
“The goal of our club is to bring students together who share a love for fishing, conservation and the outdoors,” Ward said. “Our two main focuses are centered around camaraderie and providing a platform for those who want to compete in collegiate tournaments.”
According to Ward, the club plans to host a home tournament at Patoka Lake, Ind., and may also take part in tournaments at Lake Cherokee, Tenn., Kentucky Lake, Ky., Pickwick Lake, Ala. and more. It will also organize biweekly fishing outings at local ponds for the purpose of fishing together.
Like Crews and Hibbard, Ward believes that the club might attract potential students to IU Southeast.
“We have a good demographic for this,” Ward said. “You’d be surprised how many high school kids we’ve talked to are looking for a club like this, and how many come to Admissions asking about it.”
For Crews in Admissions, the club brings benefits that go beyond recruitment and retention.
“At the national level, our students will have exposure to opportunities that they may not be able to access otherwise,” Crews said. “It’s a great way for them to develop, not only as anglers, but professionally as well, as they travel to national tournaments representing IU Southeast.”
Whether the members compete in tournaments or simply learn how to pass an enjoyable afternoon by the pond, everyone wins on some level.
Hibbard’s favorite fishing memory doesn’t even contain a fish, but the vision of a friend dangling upside down from a tree as he tried to recover a prized lure that had become snagged on the while casting.
“Fishing isn’t necessarily about catching fish, it’s also about having fun and making memories,” Glover said. “Catching fish is just a bonus.”
Homepage photo: Alex Miner of the IU Southeast Bass Fishing Club with a catch.