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Jacket Fishermen Qualify as a Team for Texas HS Bass Association Regional Tournament

                For the first time since the establishment of the Cleburne High School Bass Anglers Club in 2018, every Jacket fisherman on the membership roster will be competing in Saturday’s Texas High School Bass Association Regional Tournament at Lake Lewisville.

                To see a swarm of Yellow Jackets on the water is especially exciting for seniors--and charter members--Gavin Roberts and Grant King, who qualified for the Regional Tournament in the club’s first year of organization. They competed at Regionals again last year, going on to qualify for the state tournament, only to see it canceled due to COVID.

                “It will definitely be more fun going to the Regional tournament as a crowd, having people there you know,” King said. “As a team, we are all very compatible. We have a common interest in the outdoors—hunting, fishing—all that outdoorsy stuff. We’re all different in our fishing strengths. We’ve learned from each other, and are always bouncing ideas off each other.”

The Bass Anglers Club has steadily grown since its first year, from the membership of two in 2018, to six in 2019. This year, the roster is in the double digits. Among the new members is faculty advisor Greg Funderburk.

                Cleburne’s team of competitive anglers also includes Weston Fenn, a 2020 regional tournament qualifier, Cooper Lynch, Camden Kirkpatrick, Anthony Debenedictis, Anthony Reaves, Kane Britt, Gryffin Funderburk and Jersion Brown.

                King and Roberts, viewed by their fellow fisherman as the club leaders, were the winners of the first tournament of the 2020-21 season, which began last fall. As winners of one of the first of five tournaments scheduled in the regular season, they automatically qualified for the regional contest. The two have been friends since their Wee School days.

                “It was pretty great,” King said. “Gavin and I have gotten second before, but winning is really special. We are ranked 21st in the THSBA standings out of more than 200. We’ve pretty much been at that level the past two years.”

                According to King, qualifying for the Regional Tournament can be achieved, as a rule, if competitors meet the documented catch of five fish at each tournament of the regular season. However, that’s often easier said than done.

                “Every lake is different,” Kirkpatrick said. “Water clarity, water temperature, movement in the water, any of those things can impact the kind of day you have. That’s why we all practice fishing. You want to be able to adapt to any situation.”

                Prizes, in the form of rods, reels and other fishing gear, as well as scholarship awards to those placing at the top in tournaments are the bonus, according to the Jacket fishermen. For them, it’s about the love of the sport and the opportunity to test their skills against fellow anglers. The majority are hoping to continue with competitive fishing into college. Tarleton State University appears to be the school of choice for club members, attracted by its nationally-ranked Bass Club.

                “If you want to fish in college, you need to fish in high school,” Lynch said. “That’s something a lot of us want to do. We have a good time fishing, but at tournaments, it’s eight hours of competition—and not the time to mess around. We save the fun for afterwards, starting at weigh-in.”

                Funderburk, who also serves as an assistant football and softball coach at CHS, is looking forward to experiencing his first regional tournament as club advisor. Among the Jacket fishermen competing is his son, Gryffin.

                “My son wanted to be involved in the club this year and there wasn’t an advisor at the time,” he said. “I wanted the club to continue as an extracurricular activity, so I took over. It helped that I have a bass boat. Parents can also be involved as boat captains, which is what Grant’s father has done. It’s a great opportunity for a parent to spend more time with their son or daughter and be a part of their success on the lake.”

“Going into Regionals on Saturday, it’s hard to predict how we’ll do,” Funderburk said. “It’s fishing—you never know what will happen. That’s the beauty of this program. Everyone is on an even playing field—everyone has a chance to win. All our kids have to do is show up, do their best and believe that everything will work out in their favor. I would like to send multiple members on to state.”

                Funderburk also expressed his praise for the commitment the Cleburne anglers have for the sport and the dedication they bring as serious competitors.

                “This organization allows kids to have another way to be a part of something here at Cleburne High School,” he said. “You don’t have to be an athlete or have years of experience, just a desire to go fish. But it’s also work; it’s not all fun and games. We have fished in some of the worst conditions—wind, rain, heat, rough water—in the dark and in the fog.”

                “And they enjoy it,” he said. “Even if they don’t win, they have had a fruitful day in having the chance to get out and fish. Of all the sports we offer, this is one of the few that will be a lifetime activity.”

                As members of the CHS Bass Anglers Club gathered their tackle for what is predicted to be a chilly day on the water, spirits—and hopes—were high.

                 “Going to state—and making a strong finish at state would be the final piece of the puzzle for Gavin and me, as this is our last year to compete,” King said. “Qualifying as a team for Regionals has taken Cleburne to the next level. I think Cleburne is beginning to establish a reputation for being a competitive club. You have to start somewhere, and I think we are right up there with teams that have been established for years.”

                Funderburk agrees—and credits King and Roberts for helping to get Cleburne’s name out there.

                “Both Grant and Gavin have been good examples of our program, and establishing our reputation as a competitive team,” he said. “They go out with a good attitude, the right mind and are good mentors for our younger fishermen. They are mature men on the water. They do everything with class. They always have a plan—and they execute it. That’s why they’ve been successful time after time.”

                King, who will be enrolling in Tarleton State University in the fall, anticipates a very busy schedule as an animal science major with not much time for fishing. He has enjoyed his part in establishing the Bass Anglers Club at CHS, and believes there’s lots of fishing still to come for the Jackets.

                “At the end of the day, for all of us, it’s about the love of fishing,” he said. “I think there’ll be a lot more kids that will be joining the club in the future. Coach Funderburk has cared so much about our team and has put in a lot of work. I think he has a lot of ambition and ideas that will continue to grow the membership and build on what we have accomplished.”

                In addition to being successful on the water this season, the club has benefited from a group of community supporters that have helped with tournament fees and other program needs. Their fan base includes Pinnacle Bank, Slik Baits, Fun n Sun Boats and Tackle, Downing’s Guns, Whitfil Exotic Ranch, Constant Pursuit Outfitters, Swagger Tungsten Tackle, Cajun Contractors, Davis Team and Yolotek and Kustom Pro Service.

                “It’s been an exciting season, from the start to where we are today,” Funderburk said. “We’d like to see more involvement from the community, like any sport. It’s important to recognize the achievements of our students. I would love to get to the point where Cleburne is known across the state for having a great fishing program. I’m always looking for that kid who loves fishing.”