The Arkansas Tech University (ATU) Fishing Team holds the distinction of being the nation's first collegiate bass fishing School of the Year after amassing 896 points in the new points system designed and maintained by the Association of Collegiate Anglers.
The point system awards one point for every team overtaken during competition in 22 sanctioned events. Bonus points were available for hosting events and participating in the Berkley Conservation Institute program. ATU capitalized on every opportunity presented to earn this prestigious honor.
Their fishing team knocked off 846 different competitors over the course of the season between the BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship Series, Bassmaster College Series, and FLW College Fishing events, as well as a handful of student-run events. Some competition highlights include wins in the Cabela's Collegiate Big Bass Bash, Arkansas Collegiate Fishing Trail Championship and ULM Invitational, an 8th place finish in the Bassmaster College National Championship, 3rd and 4th place finishes in their ATU Invitational, 2nd and 6th place finishes in the Bassmaster Central Super Regional, and other respectable finishes spread across the year throughout the country.
"Tech has one of the most active programs in the country," said ACA Program Director Danny Blandford. "If there is a collegiate competition taking place, there is a good chance you'll find someone there representing ATU. They competed in 10 of the 22 sanctioned events, and those they missed were a long way from Russellville, or Tech simply wasn't eligible based on the tournament criteria. This team is full of fishing fanatics. I think they'd take on just about anyone anywhere and hold their own quite well on the water."
Beyond competition points, ATU also earned 50 bonus points for their efforts off the water. They hosted the 6th Annual Arkansas Tech Invitational and submitted two different projects to the Berkley Conservation Institute, one of which was runner-up in the collegiate portion of the program. Their community outreach and conservation projects included trash weigh-ins, ramp clean-ups, and educational programs for elementary school children and developmentally challenged adults.
"I am very proud of the ATU Fishing Team," Austin said. "These anglers have stepped up in many different areas within our club. They have donated many hours of community service for the Russellville area, used their knowledge of fishing, boating safety and habitat management to teach elementary and middle school students, and even taken time to help individuals with special needs participate in fishing through our annual fishing derby."
Austin went on to add, "We have coined a new motto for our team: 'We're more than fishing', because of our emphasis on the importance of giving back to our community and mentoring younger generations. The team has many supporters and volunteers that help our annual ATU Invitational, and we couldn't have come this far and grown this much without each and every one of these people. We are honored to receive this award."