- Lynn Burkhead
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NEW ORLEANS On Thursday, Aug. 2, 45 professional bass anglers take center stage as the 31st BASS Masters Classic begins.
But on Wednesday, it was more than 1,000 children who had the Classic spotlight as the annual Kid's Klassic was held at Lafreniere Park. The event included each child receiving a free Zebco rod-and-reel, a t-shirt and a hat prior to participating in a fishing derby at the park.
One of the young anglers who participated in the fishing derby was six-year old Hunter Songy of Laplace, La.
"I caught two little bass and three perch," Songy said with a big grin. "I had a lot of fun."
If the free fishing gear didn't excite the mass of children in attendance, then the Pro Autograph Session at the park did. Hundreds of young anglers and their parents lined up for a chance to receive autographs from such Classic qualifiers as Dean Rojas, Roland Martin, Clark Wendlandt, and Rick Clunn.
"I thought it was good because I got to get autographs," said 10-year old Brandon Madere of Denham Springs, La. "I watch Bassmasters with my dad sometimes and this is pretty cool getting to meet these guys."
Brandon's father, Lester, was more than eager to load up his two boys after the family attended the 1999 Classic in New Orleans.
"I enjoy it," said the eldest Madere. "I'd like to see it (Classic) come more often. We came two years ago and spent the four days at the Superdome. I think the weigh-in was the most exciting there were 40,000 people screaming. I think this is great and that it helps bring more kids to fishing."
Need proof that Lester's statement is true? Then look no farther than his 12-year old son Joseph.
"It's pretty cool," Joseph said. "I never thought it was really important to fish, but there are pros out there doing this, so I think it's a pretty good thing."
That's exactly the kind of response that B.A.S.S. is seeking from the next generation of anglers according to B.A.S.S. Executive Vice President and General Manager Helen Sevier.
"We don't want to lose focus of what this company is all about in the sense that bass fishing is for the entire family," said Sevier. "When we had 1,500 children out there that wanted to go fishing this morning, that's the great part. Bringing their parents and their grandparents, it's what we call the culture and it goes real deep when it goes from generation to generation."
Unlike other sports that have been plagued by scandals in recent years, Sevier is confident that the 45 Classic contenders are doing their part to earn the admiration and respect of their young fans.
"I think one thing is that they're wonderful role models. This industry and all of these pros have lived up to the expectations of this being a good, clean wholesome sport. That's how people relate to fishing and thank goodness we've got honorable young men that these young people can look up to as role models."
Lester Madere, who is joining his son Brandon in pulling for Kevin VanDam while Joseph pulls for Roland Martin, agrees with Sevier that the Classic anglers are worthy role models. Add in accessibility and Lester will willingly bring the family to the Classic to meet their fishing heroes.
"I think they'll be more eager to go fishing after meeting the pros," said Madere. "It gives them a chance to meet the pros and see that they're not just a TV show."
on Wednesday, it was more than 1,000 children who had the Classic spotlight as the annual Kid's Klassic was held at Lafreniere Park.