By Matt Kollmansperger
As participation in outdoor sports has grown in Collegiate’s Upper School, the Middle School is also following suit. I spoke with Middle School English and history teacher Charlie Williams, the faculty sponsor for the Middle School Fishing Club. “This is the fourth year of us doing it,” he says, “it was actually started by two kids, [current Upper Schoolers] Jonah Joseph (‘20) and Austin King (‘20).” “We wanted to share our passion amongst our peers” King now recalls. Williams grew up in West Virginia fishing with his grandfather and father, both avid fishermen, and saw the value in this and joined the team when asked to by King and Joseph. “Our goal is not just to catch fish, but to educate about how different lakes work, how different species eat, those sorts of things,” he says. King also elaborated: “I wanted there to be an outlet for men and women who had an interest in the outdoors.” The goal of the Middle School fishing club is similar to what the Upper School achieves through their outdoor sports programs: taking the sport, breaking it down, and expanding on each part to gain a deeper, more thorough knowledge of the subject.
Not only does the club focus on fishing, but it also builds a strong appreciation and bond between the participants and nature. “It sort of goes beyond fishing by suggesting if we like doing this, we gotta’ take care of it,” said Williams. This strong involvement in and knowledge of the outdoors allows for even more expansion in the future, as more students are instilled with a love of nature. In the years since its creation, the club has increased in size and range of topics.
Normally averaging around twenty or so participants per semester, the club has ”had close to thirty fifth and sixth graders this fall,” so membership slowly growing. Williams is also able to reach kids through all grade levels of the Middle School. “We do fifth and sixth grade in the fall, seventh and eighth in the spring,” he said. Each season, the club goes on three trips, varying in location from smaller ponds and lakes to streams, and they have made a few trips to the James River. River trips have proven to be more difficult, given the increased size of the club in recent years, but the faculty and assisting students are still able to orchestrate a shad fishing trip each year that takes place on the James. “We’ve been to the James a couple of times over by the Pipeline, but when the groups got bigger, it’s harder to find a good spot,” Williams said, “but we’ve still been able to and we’ve had people let us use their lakes.” The club has also made trips to the South River in Waynesboro, Virginia. Members are exposed to a variety of locations and different ecosystems through these three trips.
Even if kids are fully proficient in the sport of fishing, there is still ample opportunity for membership and participation. “We’ve had seventh and eighth graders as leaders in the past … it connects kids from all grade levels,” Williams said. Bringing together participants—young and old, faculty and students—together over the common interest of fishing seems to be one of the more beneficial effects produced by the program. Even kids that are no longer in the program, but former members, continue to be involved. “This year we had a few new fifth graders that had never fished before, so we had a few ninth graders and even a tenth grader that came to help on a couple of the trips,” Williams said.
The club also strives to educate kids on more than just nature. Critical thinking, analytical skills, and the logistics of planning and packing for trips are also a focus of the club. Much of this learning takes place in the classroom. “[Varsity baseball coach] Mr. [Andrew] Slater did the classroom portion this fall,” Williams said: “Usually, we’ll tackle a topic each time.” Williams tries to involve the students as much as possible in the planning process to prepare them for the trips. “We do the logistics of the trips and then the meeting before the trip. We’ll use google earth to look at the place that we’re going.” Williams said that the kids will break down the body of water to determine where they plan to fish. “We have some kids who go up by the board and say this is where I would fish because there’s a stream coming through,” Williams said.
Williams has already started to see positive effects on kids who have participated in the club. “For a lot of kids, if school doesn’t come so easily, it’s a great place for them to shine,” he said. “We’ve had kids who will get up and teach everyone something, and their level of knowledge there is amazing.”
All photos courtesy of Charlie Williams.