Despite flooding forcing IHSA officials to postpone the state bass fishing finals by six weeks, most of the high schools that qualified will fish this weekend, including 10 from the suburbs.
"Fifty of the 55 qualifying teams will be participating, so we expect a great tournament," Illinois High School Association Associate Executive Director Kurt Gibson said.
The two-day tournament for the 3-year-old event will kick off Friday. Teams checked in Thursday morning and the winners will be determined Saturday at Carlyle Lake in downstate Illinois, about 50 miles east of St. Louis.
The lake's water level has receded 7 feet since the finals' original date of May 6. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and city of Carlyle officials feverishly worked to ensure the lake would be ready, Gibson said. Schools qualified their boats at sectionals held in late April.
The delay, which put the tournament after most schools have dismissed for the summer, has created challenges for some schools in fielding a team, however.
One of those that won't be participating is St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights. The rescheduling made for conflicts with summer vacations and jobs. St. Viator coach Ray Nowak is out of the country and the team driver and boat are unavailable.
"As it stands now, it appears they will not be able to participate," said Tim Carlson, the school's athletic director, earlier this week. "Without a boat and no school representative to be there with them, logistically we just cannot see how we can do this."
Wheaton Warrenville South High School, whose anglers won a third successive sectional championship earlier this year at Busse Lake, will have only one fisherman at the competition. The other two, coach Art Tang said, are unavailable.
"This will make fishing a little more difficult, but we should be OK. My best fisherman will be participating," Tang said, referring to sophomore Chris Bulaw.
The scheduling was a boon for Naperville Central coach Brian Bakke.
"It kind of freed my schedule up a little bit," he said.
Streamwood High School head bass fishing coach Marty Baker described preparation for the state finals as hectic. One of the coaches, Kenton Evans, who accompanied Streamwood student fishermen downstate the last two years, can't take off any more time at work. Instead, another coach, Mike Rubino, was going downstate with Baker. Streamwood's two anglers, Nick Welu and Zach Eldredge, placed second at the Busse Lake sectional event.
Other suburban high schools that qualified are Stevenson in Lincolnshire, Wheaton North, Jacobs in Algonquin, Grant in Fox Lake, Zion-Benton in Zion, Alden-Hebron in Hebron and Marmion Academy in Aurora.
This is only the third year of the IHSA tournament, but schools have been quick to join in. Many schools already had fishing clubs, so for them fielding a team was no problem. Reflecting the sport's rising popularity, 222 schools had bass fishing entries this school year. That's up from 199 in 2009.
Diane Schneider, a community liaison for Cabela's outdoors store in Hoffman Estates, has seen interest grow with high-schoolers coming in for free fishing clinics and to scavenge the store's bargain section looking for deals on gear. She invites fishing pros to share tips with the high-schoolers and said the students intently listen.
"They're constantly trying different things -- if the fishing is good in an area, how are the temperatures?" she said. "It's just the scientific part of fishing. You outsmart the fish."
Scheider said one thing she likes about the sport is that what's needed for success is different from the kinds of athletic skills needed for more physical sports like football.
"What I'm excited about is this is another opportunity for kids to get involved in a school setting," he said.
The IHSA rules are similar to the professional rules. Each boat is limited to bringing in five fish caught, and the boat with the fish that weigh the most wins. Individual awards are given for catching the largest fish.
Each boat seats two fishermen and an adult coach or captain who can advise but can't fish. No live bait is permitted and boat speed is limited to 35 mph.
Fishing starts on both days at 7 a.m. and the boats must return by 3 p.m. The fish are released after the weigh-in.
A pound is deducted from the final fish weight for each minute a team arrives beyond 3 p.m., and after 15 minutes no fish from the team will be weighed. The largest fish caught at last year's tournament was 5 pounds, 13 ounces.