Mid-State student reels in fishing scholarship at Bethel
Posted: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 3:02 pm
By MITCHELL KLINE
FRANKLIN (AP) — Tyler Wadzinski’s latest fishing tale may sound far-fetched, like his story about the one that got away.
It’s a tale that starts with Wadzinski, now a senior at Franklin High School, developing a passion for the outdoors and ends with him reeling in a fishing scholarship to Bethel University.
“I think everyone I’ve told has said, ‘No way, you’ve got to be lying,”’ Wadzinski said.
It’s no lie. Wadzinski, 18, hooked a partial athletic scholarship and a spot on Bethel’s bass team. Toss in the pair of academic scholarships he got and Wadzinski has nearly covered his tuition costs to attend the small private college in McKenzie.
He’s one of the few students in the country to get a collegiate fishing scholarship. Many schools have bass teams, but few offer athletic scholarships. Another member of the team on fishing scholarship is Jake Lawrence of Union City.
“We do consider it a sport here,” said Bethel Athletic Director Glenn Hayes. “We have a coach and we fund the fishing program. We’re in a great fishing area and thought bass fishing would be a natural for us. So many people are into that right now. We’re also looking for young ladies to be on the team, too.”
Bethel is minutes away from Kentucky Lake and Carroll Lake. The bass team’s coach, Garry Mason, has been a hunting and fishing guide for 25 years.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined a college offering scholarships for fishing,” Mason said. “Bethel decided it wanted to offer fishing scholarships and become the first college in America to do so.”
School needs 14 opponents
Bethel competes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, but the NAIA does not recognize bass fishing as a sport. Hayes said he’s hoping that will change. Under NAIA guidelines, 15 or more colleges must participate in a sport for that sport to be recognized. Schools must declare their intent to participate in a sport each May, and last year no colleges reported bass fishing as a sport, according to NAIA officials.
Bethel’s bass team is in the midst of its first season. Team members will compete in seven tournaments, including the Big Bass Blast, which the school hosted Saturday on Kentucky Lake. They’ll fish against students from other colleges that have club teams. All tournaments are catch and release, meaning the fish are returned to the water after being measured and weighed. Most tournaments allow competitors to weigh five fish, and whoever has the heaviest total wins. Points are accrued throughout the season to determine the angler of the year.
Wadzinski is the first student outside West Ten-nessee to be recruited by Bethel, according to Mason. He signed a fishing scholarship on March 1, when Mason visited him at Franklin High School.
“Bethel decided it wanted to use this sport to attract new students and hit an extra market with all the competition out there today,” Mason said. “A lot of students are done with the competitive part of their athletic careers after high school. This gives them a chance to compete on the college level.”
Team made difference in college choice
Wadzinski took the bait. He said he was considering going to the University of Tennessee or several other “big schools,” but found out about Bethel’s bass team. He set up a meeting with Mason, who said he looks for true sportsmen and high academic achievers.
“I told him the story of buying my own boat and how long I’ve fished,” Wadzinski said. “Normally I can’t sit still long enough to read. When I’m fishing, I get extra patient. I’m constantly casting and reeling. I just enjoy being out there near the water.”
While his parents put a fishing pole in his hands shortly after he’d learned to walk, Wadzinski said he was 5 when he made his first true catch.
He was with a group of children sharing two poles at the bank of a pond. After a few minutes, the other children lost interest and left. Wadzinski said that’s when he felt a tug on his line.
“I started yelling ‘I felt one, I think I caught one,’ and a guy yelled ‘reel it up,’ “ Wadzinski said. “I’d never caught a fish before.”
Wadzinski developed an unyielding desire to fish. He’s fished with a cast on his arm, in the pouring rain and while enduring pain. On a family trip to Canada during the summer before his sixth-grade year, Wadzinski was hit in the face by a lure, which smacked him above the eye and hooked his nose. Wadzinski said his uncle removed the hook and handed him a handkerchief to hold on his eye to stop the bleeding.
“I started complaining that I couldn’t fish, so he came back over and tied it around my head so I could have both hands free,” Wadzinski said.
When he was old enough to fish alone, Wadzinski was cast into the Harpeth River. He would beg his parents to let him go fishing.
“We’d get a lot of work out of him when he wanted to go fishing or do something,” said his mom, Claudia Wadzinski.
Bought boat at 13
At 13, Tyler Wadzinski had saved $800 and purchased an old aluminum boat. He and a friend tried to turn it into a bass boat by adding decks to the bow and stern that they could stand on.
They used a cooler to store their catch. When Wadzinski was 16, he bought a real bass boat, a used Phantom Panther. In 2004, his family gave him a Tennessee Lifetime Sportsman License.
Wadzinski, who hasn’t decided on a major, said he’s also hoping to try out for Bethel’s basketball team. He’s played basketball most of his life and recently coached a boys team. Mason said playing basketball and being on the fishing team would be hard because the seasons overlap.
Bass team members are required to practice three times a week and must attend all tournaments, regardless of whether they fish or not.
“I think it’s going to be fun,” Wadzinski said. “I like being out on the lake, and being able to do that three days a week is a dream.”
Published in The Messenger 4.14.10