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ATU Fishing Club hooks national award

By Tammy Keith

This article was published November 15, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.

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The Arkansas Tech Fishing Club recently won the inaugural Association of Collegiate Anglers School of the Year Award. Danny Blandford, center, program director for the Associate of Collegiate Anglers, presented the plaque to Christy Austin, co-sponsor of the club, at a banquet held at Arkansas Tech University. Others accepting the honor included, from the left, fishing-club members Clayton Schuh, Evan Barnes, Aaron Sarna, Reagan Moore and Evan Smith.

— Arkansas Tech University Fishing Club members can say they’re No. 1, and it’s not a tall tale.

This one didn’t get away.

The club won the Association of Collegiate Anglers School of the Year Award — the first one ever given.

“This year, we are the highest-ranking Arkansas team. We are No. 1 in the whole country,” said Christy Austin, co-sponsor of the club.

The award was presented at a banquet on campus Nov. 7 by Danny Blandford of San Antonio, Texas, program director for the Association of Collegiate Anglers.

“The Arkansas Tech Fishing Club embodies everything we hoped college fishing could be,” Blandford said at the banquet. “I could not imagine a better program or a better group of people to be the first recipients of this award.”

To win, Austin said, the club competed in national fishing events and earned points throughout the year, and community service counted toward the total.

“We received points for a video we put together that showed everything we do — our educational events, youth events, fishing derbies, fishing clinics, whenever we go to elementary schools and teach them about boating safety,” she said.

More than 150 institutions earned points in the 2011-12 Association of Collegiate Anglers School of the Year competition, but Arkansas Tech won.

“We had a big emotional meeting with the kids, … and I told them, ‘This isn’t just about the fishing. We’re not just fishing.’ That’s kind of a motto we’ve developed. It’s about educating the youth; it’s about being mentors,” Austin said.

“Whenever my college kids go to these schools, and we bring four or five youth in the boats and do flipping and pitching, or adult consumers from Friendship [Community Services], it’s a totally different thing. These college anglers go from that competitive nature to being mentors when they’re with the kids,” Austin said. “The good and sad part of this endeavor is that I meet students when they are freshmen and get to know them, then say goodbye after they graduate and start their careers and families.”

Tech senior Jake Jacobs of Russellville, an agri-business major, said he’s proud of the award.

“It is nice — we were No. 1 in the nation, basically, and that’s the cool part about it,” Jacobs said. “We were fishing against U of A, Penn State, all sorts of colleges.”

He said garnering points for the tournaments was “a group effort.”

“We worked together to do really well, and even though we didn’t win every tournament, at least we still placed or showed up at the event to get points,” he said.

He echoed Austin’s statement that “it’s not just fishing.”

“It’s a lot to do with the community, and I like that,” Jacobs said, from teaching students how to tie lures to taking them fishing.

Austin said club members have diverse personalities.

“We have engineers; we have accountants; we have fisheries and wildlife. We have so many different personalities, but they all come together as a team and go out in the community and be a part of it,” she said.

Senior Reagan Moore, 21, of Dierks, is the first female club member to win a sanctioned college event. She said the collegiate award took commitment.

“It’s a very big honor. … We had to dedicate a lot of time to it to win it,” she said.

“Me and my partner, Evan, we traveled all the way to Amistad Lake [in Texas] for one event, and that’s a 14-hour drive,” she said.

Moore made the video that showed the members’ activities and was submitted in the competition.

“We’re involved in our community so much,” she said.

Moore said fishing club members read to elementary-school students, hold fishing derbies for special-needs students and teach boating safety, among other things.

“We had a trash tournament. We went out on our lake with one pole each in our boats, and we literally picked up trash. The people who came in with the most trash won,” she said. “We had people bringing in refrigerators. … It took a big old trailer to get all the stuff we picked up.”

Austin said fishing-club members are talking with Main Street Mission officials about partnering to help serve meals and sort clothes.

She started the club in 2006, along with Theresa Herrick, a professor in the parks, recreation and hospitality administration department.

The club started with six members and now has 50 — 22 returning members and 28 new members this semester.

Austin has been an adjunct professor for 15 years in the department of parks, recreation and hospitality administration and also works at Ridout Lumber.

She said her boss, Donnie Cobb, is also a tournament fisherman and “has been helping me since day one.”

Austin co-sponsors the fishing club with Cathi McMahan, an associate professor and head of the department.

Jacobs praised the work the co-sponsors do.

“They do it right. They put in a lot of effort. It’s not required of them; they don’t get paid for it. We hold a national tournament here every year, an invitational, and during that week, I bet they work 100 hours. They’re up at 4:30 in the morning checking boats” and don’t stop until everything is in order at night, he said.

Austin said it was a “big deal” that Blandford presented the award, and she was wowed by the “fabulous” CastAway custom green-and-gold fishing rods club members received.

Russellville Mayor Bill Eaton read a proclamation at the banquet announcing that Nov. 7 was Arkansas Tech Fishing Club Appreciation Day in the city of Russellville.

“The ATU fishing team is fortunate to have so much support, from our campus to the River Valley community,” Austin said.

McMahan agreed: “We deeply appreciate the support that everyone has shown to the fishing club.”

The club’s next event is the eighth annual Arkansas Tech Invitational in March 2013 on Lake Dardanelle, an event that Austin said would be impossible without many volunteers.

The tournament is for all sanctioned colleges in the United States. Last year, 30 colleges were represented from throughout the country.

Austin said the club’s latest honor is exciting, but there’s another motivation for members’ efforts:

“We’re stewards while we’re here; we’ve got to take care of our rivers and streams and our woodland,” she said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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