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John's Journal... Entry 40, Day 1

What Gone Fishin' Not Just Wishin' Means to the People Involved

click to enlargeEDITOR'S NOTE: Once a year, my son Hunter takes me fishing with him. I look forward to this day all year because Hunter is different from my other two children. Six months after my wife gave birth to this bright, bouncing baby boy, Hunter developed severe epilepsy. He began to spend the night in the hospital an average of two to four nights a week for the next two years.

Hunter, who's both physically and mentally challenged, lives in his own special little world. The world in which Hunter lives very possibly may be better than our world. He loves everyone and every thing he sees. Hunter forever will remain a child and will make up a big part of my heart.

As a part of my job as an outdoor writer, I hunt and fish nearly every week. But Hunter very rarely gets to go with me. Hunter doesn't walk very well, he doesn't understand very well and he can't climb at all, but Hunter can fish. Every year, the Jefferson County School System in Birmingham, Alabama, sponsors a "Gone Fishin' Not Just Wishin'" day of fishing for its special students, including Hunter.

Rather than tell you what this program means to my son and my family, I've chosen to let the people who conduct the program, the volunteers who help the students and the students themselves explain through both the written word and the photos of the event tell you how special they consider this day.

Read on. I'm sure this story will warm your heart, and you possibly may decide to help special students in your area and make their wishes about going fishing a reality.

click to enlarge* According to artist Molly Bargaineer, occupational therapist for the Jefferson County School System, Adamsville, Alabama, "'Gone Fishin' Not Just Wishin' is a wonderful two-day activity for the special-education students in the Jefferson County School System," Bargaineer reported. "We want the hundreds of children involved to get a full experience of fishing and be able to express themselves about that experience through art. We want them to tap into their creativity and create art in the outdoors. We let the kids sponge paint with fish shapes. The children paint pictures of the fish they catch, the lakes they fish, the sunshine they see and the trees and grass with which they come in contact."

click to enlarge* Shannon Holloway, conservation officer at Alabama's Department of Conservation, explains that, "I came out to help these special children learn how to catch fish and to try and make sure they had a good time in the outdoors. Alabama's Department of Conservation is not only a major sponsor of this program but also a major participant. "Fisheries biologists from the state help stock a portion of Oak Mountain State Park Lake in Pelham, Alabama, just off I-65 south of Birmingham with catfish and small bass which we net off. Then we can insure that the young people will have plenty of fish to catch.

"Many of Alabama's Department of Conservation employees participate in this day -- the Wildlife Section, the Fisheries Section, the Enforcement Section and the State Parks Section. We stock the lake, maintain the rods and try to help the youngsters catch fish. I came because I know this is for a good cause. I also want to help youngsters learn how to fish. I know that some of these children because of their parental circumstances or physical or mental disabilities never will have the opportunity to go fishing if Alabama's Department of Conservation and the other sponsors and volunteers don't put this event on once a year, every year."

click to enlarge* Teresa Taylor, Youth Director for Alabama's B.A.S.S. organization in Montgomery, Alabama, said, "B.A.S.S. got involved in this program to help the children who never would get to go fishing if the volunteers didn't help out. B.A.S.S. has a nationwide program called Casting for Kids that we sponsor and conduct, along with the Zebco Company. We teach youngsters how to cast and retrieve a rod and reel. B.A.S.S. also brings with it every year the Alabama State Bass Federation's team of anglers who compete for an opportunity to go to the BASS Master's Classic, the World Series of bass fishing that will take place in July in Chicago this year. These men give up their time to help and teach youngsters to fish. We brought 12 volunteers with us. B.A.S.S. tries to participate in youth fishing programs any time we have the opportunity."

The "Gone Fishin' Not Just Wishin'" program had to overcome the hurdle of how to get enough rods, reels, lines, hooks and sinkers for thousands of children and volunteers to fish. To solve this problem, the Zebco Company stepped in and sent rods, reels and lines to make this program a reality. Other local and national sponsors volunteered time, money and personnel to help these special children have a day of fishing like other children do. If you'd like to volunteer product, money or your help for next year's "Gone Fishin' Not Just Wishin'" days in May 2001, call Wanda Westbrook or Treva McDougal at the Burkett Center in Birmingham, Alabama, (205) 379-2800; or email Treva at TMcdou5512@aol.com.

Some of these sponsors and volunteers besides parents, grandparents, teachers and support staff, included ...

* the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources -- the Enforcement Division, the State Parks Division and the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries,

click to enlarge* Alabama Power,

* Zebco Corporation,

* Lakeshore Foundation,

* EBSCO Industries (parent company of PRADCO),

* Syx Bait and Tackle,

* B.A.S.S. Federation,

* Coca-Cola,

* Golden Flake Products,

* Lee and Martha Humber and friends,

* Alagasco,

* Waste Management of Alabama,

* Jefferson State Occupational Therapy Assistant Program,

* Jefferson State Physical Therapy Assistant Program,

* Dairy Queen in Pelham, Alabama,

* Lowe-Go Sportswear,

* Ken's Bar-B-Que,

* Pelham Police and Fire Departments,

* Kimberly Clark,

* Disabled Sportsmen of Alabama,

* Steve Staggs,

* Jefferson County Schools -- transportation and special education departments,

click to enlarge* Outdoorsmen's Club from Hoover High School, Hoover, Alabama,

* Phil King, who owns the Little Catman Fishing Service in Corinth, Mississippi, and provided the catfish fillets volunteers cooked to give the children the chance to taste freshly-caught and cooked fish. Also King's clients and friends pitched in the catfish they caught: Donnie R. Hall of Nashville, TN; Jeff Cregeen and James Chappell of Corinth, MS; Ward Johnson of Tampa, FL; Charles Day of Tallahassee, FL; Grant L. Lewis of Tishomingo, MS; and Matt Holmes of Ohio.

Tomorrow: Visits with other "Gone Fishin' not Just Wishin' Participants




Check back each day this week for more about Gone Fishin' Not Just Wishin' ...

Day 1 - What Gone Fishin' Not Just Wishin' Means to the People Involved
Day 2 -Visits with Other "Gone Fishin' Not Just Wishin'" Participants
Day 3 -Others Explain What The "Gone Fishin' Not Just Wishin'" Days Mean to Them
Day 4 -Meet More Folks From the "Gone Fishin' Not Just Wishin'" Days at Oak Mountain State Park
Day 5 -Two More Share Their Fishing Enthusiasm

John's Journal