Newberry and Union, SC Fishing Rodeos Emphasize Ability Over Disability



The Enoree Ranger District and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) have partnered for years to bring outdoor activities to area youngsters with special needs.

The 2013 Fishing Rodeo in Newberry County proved the growing popularity of these events, breaking the participation records of seven previous years with nearly 200 disabled or mobility-impaired students attending.

Students from Lexington, Newberry and Pelion County schools and some residents of the Whitten Center arrived to find colorful fishing rods, reels and buckets of worms ready and waiting for them. Newberry resident Clyde Brown again donated the pond on his farm for the event, which was stocked with 1300 lbs. of fat catfish.

Only days later, the Enoree District and the Union Piedmont chapter of the NWTF hosted a second fishing rodeo at Union's Foster Park Lake for students with special needs from local area schools, including the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind. More than 45 community volunteers were kept on-the-run at each event, baiting hooks and removing the caught fish from the lines. A number of volunteers from school clubs and organizations received community service hours for their volunteer efforts.

"Many of these kids aren’t able to participate in outdoor activities without assistance, said one teacher from Pelion. "Within the first hour our students were asking if they could return next year. They had such a wonderful time that they're writing thank-you notes today!"

Far from being just a day of outdoor fun and camaraderie, teachers use the event as a learning tool for their classes, teaching about fish in science class and developing students' writing skills by having having them describe their experiences on paper. One school made special tee-shirts as an art project for their participants to wear at the event.

Forest Service employees Steve Cobb, Cheryl Boulware and Amy Hopper have helped organize the annual events since 2006.

"Many of these folks have limited opportunities to enjoy the outdoors," said Hopper. "It's a chance to build confidence in them by highlighting their abilities rather than their disabilities. It’s a way to make the outdoor experience attainable to everyone."