The term "flip-flopper" was thrown around liberally, and conservatively, as a pejorative in the last election cycle.

Frankly, I don't understand the negative connotation. In fact, I don't trust people who never change their minds. That seems un-healthy to me.

That's why it doesn't bother me to say I've done a flip-flop in my position on the IHSA's bass fishing tournament.

I wrote a column or two last year poking fun at the notion of prep fishing. Initially, I thought it little more than a novelty act, a gimmick. Twelve months later, I'll admit I was short-sighted and judgmental.

My conversion was the result of evolution - another controversial topic - and not an epiphany.

My stance softened somewhat last year when I attended the first Wildcat Invitational. To my knowledge, the tournament, hosted by Marion High School, was the first official prep fishing tournament in Illinois.

It was clear the young men and ladies participating in the event were having a good time. On the other hand, why shouldn't they have been having a good time? They got out of school to go fishing on a gorgeous spring day.

The next week I found myself back at Lake of Egypt covering the Marion sectional. Again, it was impossible to ignore the joy of the winners. The winning teams were genuinely excited about the prospect of representing their school in the state tournament.

And, I'll have to admit, the state tournament at Carlyle Lake was done well. The IHSA, Carlyle High School and the city of Carlyle put on a fantastic show.

My opinion probably would have been swayed more by the state tournament if it hadn't been for outside influences. That was the weekend Southern Illinois was devastated by the May 8 derecho. I was trying to keep tabs on the tournament as well as happenings at home.

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place a week or two ago when I accompanied Mike Byrne, Hunter Odum and Justin Oxford during a Marion High School fishing practice. Byrne was the boat captain, Odum and Oxford the students.

As expected, the trio had a good time during their three-hour fishing excursion. They laughed. They joked. They caught fish.

However, Byrne was an astute teacher. He didn't overload the kids with knowledge. He doled out information when needed. And, that information fell on eager ears. At one point, he suggested the two young men used particular bait. Within 10 minutes, both landed a nice fish.

I wasn't shocked at the result. Byrne is an excellent fisherman. I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction of the students. Both young men thanked him for the suggestion.

The IHSA fishing program relies on volunteers like Byrne to teach the kids to fish. Marion has 22 kids on the fishing team. The Wildcats entered 10 boats in last week's Wildcat Invitational. That means 20 students spent the day with 10 adults from the community.

That has to be good for a community.

There are still some things about the IHSA fishing tournament I'd like to see changed. But, overall, I was wrong. I'm a proud flip-flopper.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088.

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