It all started with a challenge . . . the principal of one high school challenging the principal of another to a fishing competition. No, not between themselves, but between their school fishing teams. High school fishing teams? Yes, and it’s a good model for boat dealers willing to invest a little time and recognize that getting kids fishing has all sorts of short term and future benefits.
Details about the competition later. This story is really about a man with a vision and the commitment to make it happen. He’s Jim Simmons, founder and CEO of the World Billfish Series that sanctions more than a dozen big game tournaments. He’s also spearheading the new Florida Gulf Coast Center for Fishing & Interactive Museum opening in Largo, Fla. But he really imagines kids fishing - and lots of them.
Simmons’ goal is a fishing club in as many schools as possible. His idea is taking off fast. In just a few months, fishing clubs have been organized in 13 of the 17 public high schools in Pinellas County. According to reports in the Tampa Bay Times, more than 1,000 students have already joined. “The response has been phenomenal,” Simmons told the Times' outdoors editor Terry Tomlin. “We are ready to move into the middle schools and then the elementary schools. Our goal is to have over 10,000 students in fishing clubs by the end of 2012."
Simmons success illustrates that setting up fishing clubs in local school districts can be well received by educators. Competitive events between club members, as well as the formation of fishing teams to compete with other schools, will add exciting dimensions for the kids. In the competition cited above, for example, the Clearwater High School fishing team challenged the team from Tarpon Springs High. The teams faced off for two hours on March 2 at Clearwater’s Pier 60. Each team was made up of two squads and they alternated fishing. Tarpon Springs chalked up the win.
There’s general agreement in the marine industry that we must reach out to kids. Studies show 80 percent of today’s boaters were exposed to boating as kids. We also know our current boat ownership base is rapidly aging. If boating is to experience long-term growth again, we must think beyond today’s Boomers and Gen Xers. An important part of any growth program should be to get a fishing rod in kids’ hands instead of video game controllers.
I recently blogged about a model program initiated by South Shore Marine in Huron, Ohio that hosts school field trips to the dealership for students to learn about boats and boat services. In a similar way, teaching kids fishing as part of a school fishing club program is another great idea to reach young people. Let’s face it; kids who learn to fish will be predisposed to boats! Kids who come to love to fish can influence parents even now. Kids who learn to fish will be our future customers.