Local fishing club catching on with youth

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The Amateur High School Bass Anglers organization has only existed for a little more than a year, but co-founder Matt Martin, a Cartersville resident, has already seen it change the lives of more than a few participants.

Whether it’s providing a father figure or giving kids the ambition to attend college, the AHSBA has had a positive influence on plenty of children in Bartow County and beyond.

After a successful first season in 2017-18, Martin looked to improve the experience for the AHSBA tournament series contenders this season.

"The first year, we just went out and got everybody who wanted to participate," Martin said. "Everybody was wearing the same jerseys; everybody kind of looked the same. We realized about halfway through the year, we needed the kids [to be] representing their schools. We needed to get more sponsors involved, and by representing the schools, maybe, get more sponsors on the local level.

"This year, those were some of the changes we wanted. ... With that being said, we didn't care whose boat they fished on, whether it was a Cartersville boat, a Cass boat or whatever. We just wanted the kids to go out there, have fun and, in the process, maybe win some scholarship money."

There have been two tournaments so far this season with the third set for Saturday at Lake Allatoona. The most recent one was Sept. 8 at Weiss Lake in Alabama with Cartersville’s Peyton Ray and Cass’ Gabe Franklin teaming up to take home first place.

While the anglers now have school-specific jerseys, Ray and Franklin showcased that rival schools can produce successful teams. Each of the 36 boats, as of the Sept. 8 tourney, hosts two youth anglers and one adult.

The number of participants has more than doubled since last season with new kids signing up “every day,” according to Martin. With the increase in participation, the amount of scholarship money awarded at the end of the season looks likely to double, as well.

The AHSBA, which posts most of its information through its Facebook page, gave away $7,000 total to the top four point-earners last season with Calhoun’s Jake Reynolds earning the top prize of $2,450. Cartersville’s Caz Smith ($1,960) and Garrison Forrester ($1,470) came in second and third, respectively. Martin’s son, Tyler, rounded out the top four with the Cass student earning the remaining $1,120 in scholarship money.

Matt Martin expects at least $15,000 to be distributed this time around.

"I think we're going to go past our goal of $15,000, but it's hard to project that," he said. "It's growing at a rapid pace, and we're happy with it."

While the organization is based out of Cartersville and has plenty of youth from Bartow among its ranks, there are several other schools represented. Martin said kids from several Gordon County schools have competed, including Calhoun, Sonoraville and Gordon Central, and some anglers from South Paulding and Coosa also take part.

"This thing isn't just about Bartow County schools, it's about kids," he said.

Along with the senior division, which includes boys and girls in seventh through 12th grades, the AHSBA also has a junior division. Right now, the numbers in the junior division are underwhelming with just two to three boats needed each tournament.

Increased numbers in the junior division is one goal for Martin. He said there’s plenty of other things the club can achieve in the coming years, possibly even developing north and south divisions depending on how much emergence takes place.

"There's room for growth and we have visions," Martin said.

The season, which runs through spring, is still open for new participants. While Martin said the organization has a cap for number of boats, the AHSBA is still a ways from that limit.

There’s nothing wrong with that either, because Martin doesn’t measure the club’s success in number of boats or amount of prize money given away. He measures it in smiles, laughter and seeing how much of an impact the organization has on its kids.

"Sometimes you can grow too fast," Martin said. "If you grow too fast, you lose focus of what your goals are. Our goal is to reach kids — not to have the biggest club or boost our egos. Our goal is to reach kids."