As the summer rolls along, most local teachers and coaches are spending their days preparing for the upcoming school year, spending time with family and friends and recharging the batteries before school begins again in the fall. But for dozens of staff members at Naperville Central, this stretch of the summer equals the closing weeks of the Redhawks Bassmasters competition.
Social Distancing Around the Pond
When the COVID-19 pandemic was in the early stages in 2020, Naperville Central head boys golf coach Barry Baldwin and head girls water polo coach Jeff Plackett realized that one of the only activities that they could participate in together was fishing. The perfect way to spend time together while being able to practice social distancing, with some friendly competition thrown in for good measure. The two then reached out to the entire Central staff to join them for an eight week bass fishing tournament, thus the Naperville Central Bassmasters were born.
“Well, during the pandemic, we started a Naperville Central Bassmasters tournament,” said Barry Baldwin. “Something to get people out of the house, something to kind of unite the teachers and the faculty of Naperville Central. It really kind of blew up into something big where we we have 25 teachers that come out and Saturday, Sunday or Monday. They throw some lines wherever they are and just get out of the house a little bit.”
“It’s funny because we started sending pictures to each other right about the term social distancing was being invented,” Jeff Plackett commented. “We were all out fishing in different locations and sending pictures to each other about social distancing next to a pond. And, you know, all of a sudden we’d start kind of meeting up at some of the same places and then it just it grew from there.”
“Well, I’ve always loved fishing.,” added Roger Strausberger. “So when we started it a couple of years ago, I was already out fishing because that was about the only thing that we could do.”
Connections Through the Rod and Reel
The participants include a wide range of staff and creates an opportunity for friends to stay in touch throughout the summer and to create connections with new Central team members.
Baldwin noted, “It was great. We had custodians, we had secretaries, we had aides and teachers of course, all sign up. So, you know, men, women, people are going fishing with their families. It’s really great.”
“Actually, it’s funny, a whole bunch of us had and it turns out we’ve been working together in some cases for 20 years and had no idea that we were all going out fishing in different spots at the same time,” Plackett noted. “So in a lot of ways it’s sort of brought us together and also has been a fun chance to just introduce some new co-workers who have never done this before, but thought that it sounded fun.”
The rules are fairly simple. All fishing for the competition must be done from land, not on a boat, and the only fish that will count for the weight total are largemouth and smallmouth bass. Meanwhile, fishing locations can range from local ponds in Naperville, to out of state locales thousands of miles away.
“So what you do is you go out, you got to go somewhere that is not a private pond,” explained Baldwin. “And you take your largest three fish, so you weigh your three biggest fish. And whatever those three fish are, you add them together and that’s your total.”
“You know, Baldwin has found himself a little patch down near Lake Lanier in Georgia,” said Plackett. “I know a couple of guys have been down to Lake Fork and Texas on a weekend and counted that as their time. Most of us just fish in ponds from anywhere as far south as Plainfield up to maybe Schaumburg.”
“You win the week and you win a gift card to Bass Pro Shop. And then there is a trophy at the end of the year for the Bassmaster,” said Baldwin with a smile.
Sharing a Love of Fishing
While the Bassmaster competition has done a great job keeping the Redhawk staff members connected, it has also become about sharing the joy of fishing with other people in their lives.
“I think my favorite thing is when I get emails from people stating I went fishing with my daughter, I went fishing with my son or my son taught me how to fish I things like that that are it. It’s bringing people together,” said Baldwin. “It’s bringing families together. It’s bringing friends together. People are on vacation and they’re trying to put time aside to go fish with their family members just so they don’t miss a week of the Bassmasters.”
“Our week four is always Father’s Day weekend, which is a fun event because we invite everybody to take a guest out with them,” said Plackett. “In most cases, obviously, people go out with their dads, but neighbors, friends, coworkers, relatives invite a partner along with you. And that person counts toward your total as well.”
It’s unclear how long the Bassmasters will keep this tradition going, but the league’s inaugural champion, boys volleyball head coach Roger Strausberger along with Coach Plackett and Baldwin hope to keep the competition running for years to come.
“I just hope we keep it going,” said Strausberge. “I mean, there’s a good, solid crew of fishermen that stay in it week to week and that stuff.”
“People get excited,” said Baldwin. “I like the fact that people ask about it each year, ‘Hey, are we doing that Bassmasters again?’ So I think as long as Jeff and I are at Naperville Central, we’ll always do it, even if it’s just us two.”
For Naperville News 17, I’m Justin Cornwell.