MINOOKA – The 60-some members of Minooka Community High School’s fishing team, The Minooka Anglers’ Club, got a big surprise last week.
Their coach had scheduled an after-school meeting for the group April 17. They were to wear their jerseys and caps for pictures, and parents were asked to attend.
After a short meeting and a few snapshots, the red velvet stage curtains parted in front of them and on the stage was a long table with $5,000 worth of new fishing poles, tackle, rain suits and other fishing gear, along with the hosts of the syndicated radio program “Fishing and Outdoor Radio,” Jim DaRosa and Don Dziedzina.
The mayors of Channahon and Minooka were sitting on the stage, and in the audience were school board members, the superintendent, the principal, the Channahon village administrator and others.
The well-kept secret was that the fishing team had won the Fishing and Outdoor Radio Show and Plano/Frabill’s Illinois High Schools Fish Here Team of the Year.
The award was given to two teams this year – one for the best team north of Interstate 80, and the other for the best team south of the interstate. The panel was unanimous on choosing the Minooka team for its southern award, DaRosa said.
“It’s a big honor for us,” the team’s assistant coach Dave Barney said after the presentation. “It’s phenomenal. It’s exciting for us and for the kids, and since so many members of the community are involved in the program, it’s a community award, too.”
“These are a great bunch of guys and a great bunch of parents. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of fun. We have some great sponsors, too,” coach Stan Tischer added.
DaRosa noted that other Illinois schools treat fishing as a varsity sport that includes tryouts. The Minooka team is not like that, he said. Doing well in the tournaments is great, he said, and that’s what the Illinois High School Association recognizes.
“We recognize the schools that don’t close the doors on the other students,” DaRosa said. “We’re honoring the teams that honor fishermen at all levels. When you all get together for a team meeting, there are no classes – you’re all equal.”
Dziedzina said another reason the Minooka team was chosen is it uses fishing to teach good citizenship, environmentalism and community service. Members attend such community events as Three Rivers Fest, go on field trips and do river cleanups on the Des Plaines River.
“They do a lot,” Dziedzina said. “Some schools, all they do is competitive fish.”
Minooka resident and one of the team’s volunteers, Mike Hrechko, can attest to the service the students do. When the rivers flooded over last spring, his house was inundated with water. The team helped him bring things out of his basement and set up pumps to get the water out.
Freshman Jessica Volke said she enjoys being in the club.
“I’ve always loved fishing,” she said. “I like being out on the water and just being out in nature.”
Club president Dan DeGraff, a senior, said he was a fishing novice when he joined.
“I was pretty bad at fishing when I first got on the team,” he said, “But the first time I went out, I actually caught a fish.”
Fishing is a lifelong sport, assistant coach Barney said, and one he’s enjoyed since he was a little kid.
“I like being in the outdoors, where it’s peaceful and quiet,” he said, “And being able to be outdoors with other people like my wife and friends.”