Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

John Husar, the Chicago Tribune’s legendary outdoors writer, once complained that a cold front followed him around as he worked on fishing stories.

To the fishing impaired: Cold fronts generally create tough fishing conditions.

The Illinois High School Association can relate to Husar’s predicament. Since its inception in 2009, the IHSA state bass fishing tournament has been plagued by bad weather.

Initially, the tournament was held the first weekend of May. Volatile weather early in the month resulted in the event being pushed to late May, but even that hasn’t been foolproof.

Heavy rains in early May flooded Carlyle Lake, forcing the IHSA to reschedule the tournament to June 14-15.

Although there were still some weather issues, lightning caused a nearly two-hour rain delay Wednesday, and the young anglers fished in broiling heat Thursday, when the tournament was completed. Brendan Johnson and Cole Levanti of West Frankfort took home the third place trophy.

High water, suspended fish and hot weather created adverse fishing conditions. Weights were low, but everyone had to deal with the same complications. If you want to put a positive spin on it, this tournament provided a real test for anglers. There was nothing easy about it.

On the other hand, the IHSA handled a difficult situation well. Officials did a good job of keeping the kids safe during Wednesday’s thunderstorm. All boats were forced to take shelter for nearly two hours, and were released to resume the tournament only after radar showed no lightning in the area.

However, there were a few glitches that need to be addressed … in fact, one faux pas was corrected on day two of the tournament.

FLW, Fishing League Worldwide, handles the fishing portion of the tournament. Obviously, the IHSA doesn’t have the equipment to conduct a professional style weigh-in.

The Wednesday weigh-in was an adventure thanks to the weather. With about a dozen boats to go, the skies opened up once more. The IHSA and FLW crews did a terrific job of getting kids through the scales and out of the elements quickly.

Thursday was another story.

Despite temperatures in the 90s – fans were seated in the open on asphalt – the weigh-in lasted nearly two hours. That’s probably too long under any circumstances, even in an air-conditioned venue, but outside in the heat, it’s unacceptable.

The anglers are tired. The fans are uncomfortable. And, the fish need to get back into the water. Eliminating unnecessary on-stage chatter would easily have shaved 30 minutes off the program.

And, the emcees have to be more judicious in their comments. This is 2017 – there is nothing funny about asking a female angler is she is afraid to pick up a fish.

Finally, the IHSA deserves kudos for adroitly handling another situation.

FLW tournaments begin with the national anthem and a prayer prior to take off. After the anthem Wednesday, the FLW representative launched directly into a prayer. Anglers and coaches are, of course, allowed to pray silently, but state-sanctioned prayer is a no-no.

IHSA officials said they were caught off-guard Wednesday. Thursday the event began without a public prayer, as is proper.

The IHSA fishing tournament has been a great success over the years. A few minor, emphasis on minor, tweaks will make it better.

LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at / 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.


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