On Thursday morning, I welcomed aboard my boat Dr. Aaron Baggett, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s faculty sponsor of the UMHB Bass Fishing Team, along with two of that team’s members, Carter Vaughn and Caleb Ramm.
Baggett was kind enough to grant me an interview about the University’s bass fishing team. The following are the highlights of that interview.
Q: What is the actual name/status of the fishing activity at UMHB?
A: The official name of the group is the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Bass Fishing Team. The team is technically considered a club sport, which falls under the auspices of the Division of Student Life, not the athletic department as many might assume. Of the many colleges and universities across the country with bass fishing teams, most are structured similarly as club sports with a few classified as athletic teams. In either case, these teams are not subject to NCAA governance or oversight. The advantage here is that these teams are able to solicit sponsorships and other licensing deals that other student-athletes and sports might not be eligible to receive.
Q: How and when was the team conceived?
A: In the fall of 2019, Carter Vaughn (now team president) and one of his friends, Cade Isbell (now team vice president), were fishing off one of the banks at Lake Belton while dreaming about a scenario that would allow them to one day do what they loved while representing the university. Knowing that many other colleges and universities in the U.S. offer competitive bass fishing as a club sport, they approached Sue Weaver, UMHB Director of Campus Recreation, with the idea of starting a similar club on campus.
That semester, bass fishing was added to the list of potential club sports to be considered at a student interest meeting. Ultimately, over a dozen students indicated a strong interest in either joining or learning more about the club. Twelve students may not sound like many, but from an undergraduate student population of approximately 3,000 students, it was a strong showing.
Q: How is the organization structured/governed?
A: Being an official student organization/club sport, the team was first tasked with drafting a constitution and set of bylaws, which is standard for any student-led group on campus. The documents are standard for student groups like this, including a minimum grade-point average requirement, adherence to the UMHB student code of conduct, the team’s purpose statement, etc. Of the nine members, there is a team president, vice president, treasurer, and recording secretary.
Q: With which schools does the team compete?
A: During the 2020-2021 academic year, the team competed in two tournaments, which were part of the Major League Fishing Abu Garcia Collegiate Fishing Circuit.
Collegiate anglers from across the country can compete in tournaments from any of the five conference divisions (e.g., Central, Northern, Southeastern, Southern and Western). However, since the divisions are designed to be more regional in nature, most tend to compete within their conference.
That said, on March 26, 2021, Jacob Froese and Caleb Ramm became the first pair of anglers to represent UMHB when they competed in a one-day MLF Central Conference tournament at Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo. On April 16, 2021, the team sent six anglers — Jacob Froese, Caleb Ramm, Colby Hamilton, Carter Vaughn, Jordan See and Nobel Smith — to compete in a one-day MLF Southern Conference tournament at Lake Somerville near Brenham, Texas.
Q: How many students are on the team? Any females?
A: The team is currently comprised of nine undergraduate men. There has been interest from a few undergraduate women, but none who have joined officially.
Q: Does participation cost the student anything beyond the expenses they already incur for their education?
A: Staff from the UMHB Student Activities Office and team leadership decided no member dues or other associated fees would be required during the inaugural 2020-2021 year. Beginning in the 2021-2022 academic year, each team member will be expected to pay a membership dues fee, which will go toward general operating costs, promotional items (e.g., hats, T-shirts, stickers, etc.), team jerseys, equipment, and even tournament registration fees. The plan is to charge somewhere between $250 and $375 per year for dues.
UMHB does contribute a relatively small portion of capital to the budgets of all active student organizations to help offset the costs of some of the above-mentioned items.
Q: Is any scholarship money available to interested high school anglers?
A: Like many small, private, liberal arts universities, UMHB does not offer athletic scholarships. Likewise, no scholarship dollars are available in the form of club sport recruitment. However, according to U.S. News and World Report, 81% of full-time undergraduates at UMHB receive some kind of need-based financial aid, and the average need-based scholarship or grant award is approximately $15,000 per year.
Q: How is the team currently equipped?
A: Many fishing tackle and equipment manufacturers offer friendly sponsorships in the form of the use of their company logo on team jerseys, promotional materials, et al. The greatest benefit, however, of those sponsorships comes in the form of lucrative discounts for team and individual angler tackle and equipment purchases. Most of the discounts range in the neighborhood of 25-40%. Currently, the team is sponsored by Lews, Strike King, Zoom Baits, Seaguar, Spro, Rapala (and all subsidiary brands), Cashion Fishing Rods and Aftco.
Q: What are the names and hometowns of the current members?
A: Our members include Jacob Froese, Belton, TX; Colby Hamilton, Joaquin, TX; Cade Isbell, Austin, TX; John Kazmierski, Buda, TX; Caleb Ramm, Salado, TX; Jordan See, Pasadena, TX; Noble Smith, Edgewood, TX; Carter Vaughn, Katy, TX; and Gabe Weitzman, Cypress, TX.
Q: What is your role with the team?
A: All UMHB student organizations are required to have at least one faculty or staff member serve as the sponsor or campus liaison. Being an Associate Professor of Psychology, my role is that of faculty sponsor. I worked with the team’s leadership roster to help draft the constitution and bylaws, complete sponsorship applications, design team logos, and interface with campus and community constituents. Additionally, I also help the team develop tournament strategies by breaking down lake maps with seasonal and weather conditions in mind when selecting baits and other fishing presentations.
Q: Any accomplishments of note for the team thus far?
A: In just their first year of active and approved status, the team sent a total of six anglers to compete in two national tournaments under the MLF Abu Garcia Collegiate Fishing Circuit. Although we had no teams place, we consider simply competing an accomplishment — especially considering that, at the time, the team had gone from dream to reality within an 18-month period that even included a global pandemic!
Q: Aside from tournaments, what other team-specific activities do the members participate in?
A: We are beginning to establish a social media presence with Twitter and Instagram accounts. Moving forward, we would like to incorporate more campus and community service initiatives as well.
Q: How frequently does the team gather as a whole, if ever? At what location?
A: With UMHB’s COVID-related restrictions this year, the team’s ability to formally meet on campus was limited. Instead, they held several casual team gatherings at their respective apartments. We did, however, hold two formal team meetings at my house at the beginning of the fall semester and at the end of the spring semester.
With campus COVID restrictions loosened, we hope to meet formally each month during the upcoming year. One of my goals is to have one team member be responsible for delivering a fishing-related presentation to the team during each meeting. For example, their assignment might be to spend time researching and learning about a particular fishing presentation or technique like the dropshot, Carolina rig, etc., and then teach that to the rest of the group.
We also plan on periodically inviting local fishing experts to deliver a guest presentation on a wide-range of topics including sonar, tournament preparation, techniques, etc.
Q: What is the team looking forward to in the new academic year of 2021/2022?
A: The team plans to continue competing in the MLF Collegiate Circuit during the upcoming academic year. Among other goals, we plan to build a team-specific webpage under the official UMHB website, increase social media presence, and focus heavily on recruiting efforts among area high schools.
We also plan to at least volunteer in some capacity at the next iteration of the Central Texas Boat Show.
We are open to partnering with local businesses interested in sponsorship of our members and their efforts as we strive toward these goals.