Through the years Tyler Junior College has racked up a lot of sports championships. Football, basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis and golf, you mention it and the school has finished on top at one time or another.
Now the chase is about to begin for another championship trophy, but unlike all the others, this time TJC is going up against four-year universities. The competition is going to be tough.
Starting next semester the fledgling TJC bass fishing club will be joining the teams participating in the BOAT-US and Cabelas collegiate fishing tournaments. They will be up against the likes of UT Tyler, Texas A&M, Stephen F. Austin and other powerhouse college teams from across the country.
"Right now we are trying to build our team," said team member Matthew Burns. "We are doing events and competing against each other. The real interesting stuff is going to happen next semester when we are to going to compete against four-year colleges out of state."
Team member Landen Beckham was the driving force in creating the club sport. He got his competitive start fishing for Bullard High School before graduating and moving on to college. After lining up an alumni sponsor the team began to crank up in March.
This semester it was baby steps with nine members, six of whom competed in club tournaments. First-year team members included Beckham, Burns, Justin Doelitsch, Brayden Rowlingson, Jarod Davis, Garrett James, Chase Bonner, Garet Allen and Samuel Ragle.
The club had four tournaments on lakes Fork, Lake O'the Pines, Holbrook and Tyler before a championship event last weekend on Brandy Branch. Burns teamed with Doelitsch this semester to win the club championship with 15.28 pounds. Their winning stringer included a 6.85-pound big fish.
The team also had its first taste of competition against a four-year school.
"This semester started with the Tyler Shootout against UT Tyler," Burns said. "It is an event that is going to be held once a year."
UT Tyler won the first tournament on Lake Tyler, where the two schools plan to continue it in the future.
When the spring semester begins in January, the team should have another tournament to gauge interest and determine teams to participate in its first tournament against other schools. That will be in February on the Atchafalaya Basin out of Houma, Louisiana. At this point Burns said he is certain that both he and Beckham will team up in the tournament. Other than that it is up in the air.
"Right now we are looking at taking two boats, the top two in the team standings," Burns said. "But we are not sure who is going to go. Being a two-year school we are not sure who is going to be back."
Besides fishing for the school, Burns and Beckham are regulars in other tournaments on area lakes, Beckham fishing in the East Texas Bass Association and Burns often competing in open tournaments.
In an era of high tech information, Burns said he was recruited to the team in a pretty low-tech fashion.
"I was fishing Lake Palestine and when I came back to the marina there was a note on my truck," Burns said. "I have a TJC parking sticker on my truck. It was from Landen asking me to come to a meeting about the team. Landen and I fish together all the time now. He has done a lot of work to get the team up and running."
Typically participants fund their own way to compete in collegiate fishing. If they receive any money from the school as a club activity it is just enough to cover gas and four-to-a-room accommodations.
The TJC team has applied for grant money and to make it more attractive for a grant and to draw more participants it plans to expand its tournament rules going forward to allow fishing from canoes and even from the bank.
Still, it is always going to have the problem of quick turnaround of members that the four-year schools don't face. Facing a two-and-done situation, which in reality is often a one-and-done, the TJC team will constantly need to be replacing members with boats and finding new leadership.
Burns said the ultimate goal would be to have six or more boaters and an equal number of non-boaters in the club, but that might be tough to achieve. He added anyone who is a registered full- or part-time student at any of the TJC campuses is eligible to participate.
Current or incoming students interested in participating in the club can get more information by emailing Beckham at email@example.com.
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