OAKMAN — The Oakman Middle School fishing team is making a splash in competition.Five-man team Landon Martin, Austin Aaron, Eli Kilgore, Brodey Hartley and Peyton McLemore are making history as the …
OAKMAN — The Oakman Middle School fishing team is making a splash in competition.
Five-man team Landon Martin, Austin Aaron, Eli Kilgore, Brodey Hartley and Peyton McLemore are making history as the school's first fishing team, and they have fared well in two competitions so far this year.
Hartley and Kilgore won the junior division of the Alabama Student Angler Bass Fishing Association's (ASABFA) Qualifying Tournament at Lake Eufaula on March 9, weighing in at 12.63 pounds. Hartley won Big Fish with a bass of 5.51 pounds.
"It was a tough tournament, even for the high school team," Oakman Middle's fishing team sponsor Jessica Thompson said. "It was very cold. The wind was blowing miserably. There were a lot of weather conditions against us, but they did good."
At a Lake Martin tournament on Feb. 9, Hartley and Martin placed in the top 10 with 7.41 pounds.
This is the first year the ASABFA has recognized a junior division, Thompson said, which gives the young men a chance to learn fishing skills early before taking part in the high school's fishing team.
Thompson said she credits Grant Nichols, the sponsor of Oakman High School's fishing team, for helping the younger group develop a team.
"If it were not for him, we wouldn't have this all together. He really has taken us under his wing, and he helps us with everything," she said.
She's hopeful the middle school's fishing team will continue to grow like the high school team, which has around 20 members.
Thompson said competing in fishing competitions at a younger age is also helping the team learn about the many rules of competing in what continues to be a growing sport.
"I don't think people really realize how big of a deal it is, but you go to these fishing tournaments and they have a big stage set up like a professional weigh-in. There's tents for miles of all the different schools that are there," she said. "There's just people everywhere. They're huge events."
Oakman Middle's fishing team is open for sixth though eighth graders, but all current members are in the seventh grade. Most of the young men taking part say they have been fishing since their early elementary years, and they enjoy being able to take their skills to another level and compete.
"It's really fun. You get to hang out with your friends," Hartley said.
One thing they all agree on is their hope that other county middle schools will take notice and consider starting their own fishing group.
"We want more people to get on fishing teams," Aaron said.
Thompson said the team's success is due in large part to captains who have volunteered to accompany the team to competitions. Captains must be 21 and older, and they are responsible for driving the boats and serving as a mentor.
Jake Hartley, Kevin McLemore and Mason Millwood are captains for the team.
"The captains play a major role in this because they are ultimately the teachers and the leaders," Thompson said.
And it's not all about fishing. Thompson said the boys are learning much more than hands-on skills.
"They are learning to catch their own food. They are learning about conservation — things they wouldn't necessarily learn if they were playing baseball or basketball," she said. "They are learning a respect for the environment, and they really respect this sport."
The team will compete at Weiss Lake on April 6, and they will also go to the ASABFA state tournament at Lake Jordan in May.
Thompson said they welcome anyone who would like to sponsor the team. Sponsorships have allowed the boys to enter and travel to tournaments.
The fishing team's current sponsors are Kilgore Wrecker Service, Holladay Agency, Lamar's Glass, Don Kilgore Realtors, Delta Transfer, Jasper Industrial Maintenance Supply, RelaDyne, Walker Women's Specialists, Mar-Jac Poultry, Metal Central, Son's Supermarket, Big Guy's Express Car Wash, That Electric Co., Long's Glass Service and Martin Electric Motor Service.