Dalton High School Catamounts

May 20, 2014

Nelson keeps a tight line

Multiple high school athletes from the area sign scholarships each year for baseball, basketball, football, softball, volleyball and many other sports.

Bass fishing scholarships? There aren’t many of those.

Dalton High School’s Hunter Nelson signed a partial scholarship Monday at the school to join the Bryan College bass fishing team next school year. The school, in Dayton, Tenn., will compete in the sport for the first time next school year. It is offered at the college as a club sport since the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics does not include bass fishing in its championship offerings.

Dalton does not have a club program for bass fishing, but there are ways Nelson gained exposure.

“My dad (Bradley Nelson) and I went to a fishing tournament in Cartersville,” Nelson said. “A fishing pro (Michael Neal) was close to us during it. I messaged him on Facebook after and he gave me his number and stuff. I texted him and said I was supposed to go to West Georgia to fish there. He asked if I was getting any scholarship money. It turns out he’s the assistant coach at Bryan.”

Neal got Nelson in touch with head coach Mike Keen, who brought the family to Bryan College for a campus visit.

“Hunter was about to go to another school,” Keen said. “When they found out we offered scholarships, they wanted to look before making a decision. They liked what they saw.”

Bass fishing is not offered as a GHSA sport, but interest continues a steady rise among colleges and young anglers. A Time magazine article from a year ago stated — according to FLW Outdoors, one of the main organizations that hosts pro fishing tournaments — there are more than 600 colleges offering the sport at the club level. The article states that in 2008 there were only 90 schools with bass fishing teams.

“You’ll see more and more getting scholarships,” Keen said. “It’s growing like crazy.”

Nelson’s new team will practice in the fall at nearby Lake Chickamauga and compete in tournaments next spring. The club team will not be affiliated with any organization during the inaugural season, Keen said.

“Bryan College treats our bass fishing team like the basketball or baseball team,” Keen said. “He’ll get a great education and have fun on the water, too. We’ll have some competition amongst ourselves in practice, but when we go to tournaments, it’s all about how the team does.”

Nelson isn’t new to team competition. He played baseball and football for the Catamounts during his high school career. He pitched this spring on the diamond after missing part of the year and all of last season due to a torn rotator cuff and labrum in his shoulder. He suffered the injury his freshman year during football but didn’t have surgery until February of his junior year. An offensive lineman in football, he missed his entire senior season on the gridiron.

Despite his injuries derailing any dreams of playing college baseball or football, Nelson found a new love and new dreams in bass fishing.

“It was about a year ago in June,” he recalled of his first event. “There was a tournament up at Lake Chickamauga and my dad and I went up for it. On the way back, he told me there were clubs for fishing around Dalton and asked if I wanted to join.”

Still, he can’t deny this is an unorthodox way to earn a scholarship. That was made pretty clear at Dalton’s end-of-year sports banquet last week.

“We had the end-of-year scholarship banquet,” Nelson said, “and principal (Steve) Bartoo said it was our first ever bass fishing scholarship.”

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Dalton High School Catamounts
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  • dhs bass signing1.jpg Nelson keeps a tight line

    Multiple high school athletes from the area sign scholarships each year for baseball, basketball, football, softball, volleyball and many other sports.
    Bass fishing scholarships? There aren’t many of those.

    May 20, 2014 1 Photo