ADRIAN, Mich. — When the more than 150-year-old institution of higher learning located here announced recently that it intended to field a varsity bass fishing team for the 2014-15 academic year, first there were the obligatory jokes and wisecracks ... and every pun that was intended.
■ Because they can’t “walk on” and join the team, do prospective athletes have to swim on?
■ Is this serious, or are they just testing the waters?
■ Where do the cheerleaders stand?
■ Are all of the cheers silent, so they don’t scare the fish?
■ Do they sell worms and minnows at the concession stand?
And finally ...
■ Bass fishing? Are you kidding?
Adrian College athletic director Mike Duffy let the skeptics have a laugh, then he let them know he means business. Earlier this week he hired Adrian native and competitive angler Seth Borton as the team’s head coach.
“We’re doing this, we are serious about it, and we are going to approach this like any other sport,” Duffy said. “There will be a budget, we’ve hired a head coach, and we’re already looking at recruiting. After the initial reaction, people are really excited about it. I’ve been here 28 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Across the United States, collegiate bass fishing teams number in the hundreds, and most are club sports not funded by the college or university. Ohio State has one of the largest bass fishing clubs, with around 50 members who wear bright red jerseys sprinkled with sponsor logos, but dominated by a large “block O” front and center.
Bowling Green State University, Ohio Northern, Akron, Michigan State, Kent State, Carnegie Mellon, and Harvard also have fishing clubs that Adrian can expect to face on one of the three tournament circuits that provide events for college teams.
“There’s a lot of buzz about this,” Duffy said. “We’re getting phone calls and emails from all over the country. This will be a co-ed team, and I hope we get just as many women anglers as we do men.”
The notion of fielding a bass fishing team came from one of the school’s trustees, and after Duffy researched the subject, he felt it was a good fit for Adrian, which sits in close proximity to some very good bass waters in the Irish Hills, Lake St. Clair, and Lake Erie. Duffy said that adding bass fishing as a varsity sport meshes well with the creative vision of Adrian College president Jeffrey R. Docking.
“He thinks outside the box, and he wants us doing things that are innovative and that bring excitement to the college community,” Duffy said. “We’re going to try different things, and this is something that I think we’re going to be pleasantly surprised by.”
Borton, 31, who has a degree in sport and business management from Siena Heights, has hit the water casting (yes, an additional pun intended). He has already contacted the coach at Tennessee’s Bethel University, which won the 2013 Boat U.S. Collegiate Bass Fishing National Championship, to mine information so Borton could start putting together the foundation for Adrian’s program.
“I’ve been able to get some great ideas on what they’ve done in order to be so successful,” Borton said. “This sport is growing like crazy, and they’ve used it as a recruiting tool to boost their enrollment. There will be a definite learning curve.”
Borton, who finished tied for first in the 2013 National Bass Anglers Association National Championship at Kentucky Lake last April, has worked for Bass Pro Shops and also represented a number of fishing tackle manufacturers. He expects to utilize those contacts to bring partners and sponsorships to the team, and because bass fishing is not an NCAA sanctioned sport, the program has more latitude in that area.
“We have Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s right here, and forming great relationships with them is going to be a huge component of our success,” Borton said. “And I see those relationships being about more than bass fishing. We’d like to be involved in community projects, and helping kids learn how to fish.”
Borton, who was introduced to competitive fishing by an uncle who was involved in the sport, expects to continue to fish professionally in a select number of tournaments, but recruiting and building the Adrian College program is now his priority. He hopes to have the framework of a team in place before the start of the 2014-15 academic year, with the season schedule likely running from February or March through June.
“This makes sense on so many levels,” Duffy said. “There are a lot of kids out there who want to further their education, and they like to fish, so why don’t we give them another opportunity to do that.”
Duffy said he expects adding a new varsity sport at the small, private college to continue to generate a lot of interest.
“Since the word got out, this thing has really jumped off the cliff, but I’m fired up about it,” he said. “All new ventures can be a little nerve wracking at times, but this is something that’s viable, and it’s growing in the state of Michigan. We’re excited about this.”
SPORTFISHING EXPO: The Huron Valley Sportfishing Club will hold its seventh Annual Michigan-Ohio Sportfishing Expo at the MBT Center at the Monroe County Fairgrounds on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $5. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. There will be displays of boats, equipment on sale by local and national tackle dealers, tackle rigging demonstrations, fishing seminars, refreshments, and one-on-one sessions with bass and walleye pros. Parking is free, and children 12-and-under get in free.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.