When Ryan Teems, a member of the Erskine College Class of 2019, tells the story of how he became a bass fishing coach at his alma mater, he also explains how bass fishing moved from a club-level program to a collegiate sport on the Due West campus. He was named bass fishing coach in the spring of 2019, but he had entered Erskine with his focus on a different sport.
“After coming to Erskine College on a baseball scholarship, I found I was at a place where I needed to step away from baseball and follow other callings,” Teems says. He had a strong interest in fishing and loved competing at the local level. When he met Erskine student Evan Hughes, who had been a bass fishing standout at nearby Abbeville High School, the two started the process of creating a club-level bass fishing program at Erskine.
“We saw many obstacles along the way, but we had amazing help from the Student Development office with a lot of these issues,” Teems recalls. He notes that Vice President for Student Success Dr. Wendi Santee, as well as Marissa Niño, the administrative assistant in Student Development, “were two of the most important people in getting the bass fishing team up and running at the club level.”
While in some ways the club program was successful, and the students enjoyed competitive fishing, it was not sustainable. “Being at the club level put us at a disadvantage for a few reasons,” he explains. “The main reason is that we were funding everything out of our own pockets, which began to be extremely costly for college students.”
Long drives to tournament locations, entry fees, food and lodging, fuel for trucks and boats—it all added up. “To help save money, we slept in our trucks at boat ramps and we would live off a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter,” Teems says. “This sounds crazy to most people, but that is just how dedicated we were.”
At the club level, “We were not able to fully maximize our recruiting potential because we were not able to offer any form of scholarship incentive for prospects,” he explains. Finally, the club team needed the right leadership “to take the organization to the next level and to have someone who could take on the responsibilities of planning, recruiting, and budgeting.”
Teems, a business major, was invited to make a presentation to Erskine Athletics about the growth of bass fishing as a competitive sport and the possibility of recruiting students to Erskine for the sport. Director of Athletics Mark Peeler—and eventually, the Erskine Board of Trustees—approved the addition of bass fishing, which is now included in the list of sports offered at Erskine.
“We are not an NCAA sport,” Teems says. “The way competitive bass fishing works is that we fish under the Bassmaster College Series, a national organization that includes about 600 schools.”
Once it was decided to establish bass fishing as an Erskine sport, a coach was needed for the new venture, and Teems decided to submit his application for the position. He brings to his role both a knowledge of bass fishing and “a desire to be part of Erskine’s legacy.”
Since commencement in May, Teems has been busy recruiting for the 2020-21 academic year and planning for the coming spring season. He is excited about what’s ahead.
“We are expecting our roster size to nearly triple by the fall of 2020,” says the young coach, noting that for the 2019-20 academic year, recruiting did not start until May.
Each year, the Bassmaster College Series hosts a trial of four regional qualifying events. “We compete at each regional event in hopes that our anglers will qualify for the national championship,” Teems says. “The top 25 teams, which are the top 25 boats made up of an angler and a co-angler, will then go on to fish in the national championship. Each tournament will have 250 to 300 boats at each event. The top 10 from each event receive scholarship money, plus any rewards from sponsoring companies.”
Teems said the ultimate goal for Erskine’s bass fishing team members is to win the College National Championship. “The winner is not only awarded a nice scholarship package, but also an invitation to the famous Bassmaster Classic, and the winner receives a full sponsorship package as well. That is the dream for our anglers, to go to the professional level.”
On the bass fishing roster this year are seniors Wyatt Reid of Rock Hill, a business major, and Gehrig Defronzo of Williamston, a pre-medical major; junior Evan Hughes of Abbeville, a business major; sophomore Aidan Free of Ware Shoals, a business major; and freshmen Macey Miller of Richfield, N.C., a business major, and Conner Owens of Laurens, a chemistry major.
The spring schedule includes events in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, and South Carolina.