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Gaige Blanton founded Missouri Western’s fishing club at the beginning of 2020, pre-pandemic. In the span of one month, he had arranged sponsors for the club and was having presentations and outdoor meetings with his 15 paid members. He and his fishing partner, Kody Mazur, placed tenth out of almost 120 teams at the MLF College Fishing Central Qualifier, meaning they’d qualified for nationals the following year.Then, spring break hit, and no one would be able to return to campus to participate in the newly-established fishing club. Flash forward a few months and everyone’s back on campus, but the COVID-19 guidelines are strict.“We haven’t really had a normal year yet,” Blanton said. “We were meeting weekly until spring break of last year, because we never even came back after that. And then over last fall, we couldn’t really have any meetings. And then this spring, we haven’t been able to have any meetings.”This semester, the national tournament was still on and Blanton had submitted an event proposal to the university and paid his dues for the Abu Garcia College Fishing National Championship in Grand Lake Grove, Oklahoma. He was set to leave with Mazur on a Friday morning.But on that Thursday afternoon, Blanton received an email stating that university-sponsored travel was not allowed. Blanton and Mazur would not be able to represent Missouri Western at the national championship in which they’d qualified for.As part of Missouri Western’s COVID-19 protocol, registered student organizations are required to submit event proposals in order to receive permission to gather during the 2020-21 school year. Blanton’s travel request for the national tournament was denied, and he submitted a second request to gather as a club on campus in which he never got a response.Dr. Doug Davenport, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said the university is not allowing any student organizations to travel this school year. He said athletic teams are able to travel because the school is aware of the NCAA’s COVID-19 policies, but they have no way of controlling things at other events such as conferences or tournaments.“This is the challenge that we face, is trying to keep the campus safe, which means travel is probably not the wisest thing to do,” Davenport said. “Unfortunately, it has really put a damper on a lot of student activities, I know this and that’s frustrating.”While travel may be restricted, gathering as a club is sometimes approved. After proposals are submitted, they go to student affairs and are looked at next to a checklist of safety restrictions. Davenport said most of those proposals are now being approved, and only the tricky cases get sent up to him.“We are looking at revisiting the protocols for campus,” Davenport said. “We said two weeks after spring break, we will revisit this to see how did it go… are the [COVID-19] numbers still very, very low, then we may reconsider and may decide to relax in some ways some of our guidelines.”Despite the setbacks, Blanton and his fishing club is already looking ahead at a tournament at Lake of the Ozarks in the fall. He intends to compete in three large tournaments throughout the 2020-2021 school year. And although there is definitely a competitive aspect to the club, Blanton said it’s called the fishing “club” because members can come in with any level of knowledge.“You don’t have to know anything,” Blanton said. “You can be as knowledgeable or as unknowledgeable as you want to be. That’s the good thing about fishing.”Ideally, Blanton said the club will meet once every couple of weeks. Members can choose to compete at tournaments or simply join the club and learn to fish.Blanton sees this club as a great opportunity for Missouri Western students and the university as a whole. Schools such as Northwest, Central Missouri and Washburn all have fishing teams--just to name a few--and top finishers at the national tournaments can win boats, money or even scholarships.Both college fishing and fishing for sport have grown over time, and Blanton said he grew up at just the right time for it. Originally from St. Joseph, his father taught him how to fish when he was young and he just never stopped being passionate about the sport. “I’ve always been fascinated with the sport-side of fishing, the competitive side of fishing. It’s been something I’ve been passionate about my whole life,” Blanton said. “I played sports in high school, but I was more passionate about fishing than any of them. It’s just kind of a culture that I was brought up in.”He fished in high school tournaments and traveled all over the country to fish. Not only has he fished the lakes in Missouri, but Blanton has traveled to states such as Texas, South Dakota and Wisconsin just to fish.Blanton had previously attended Kansas State where he had been a part of their fishing team. When he transferred to Missouri Western, he had a clear idea in mind of how to establish a fishing club. No one could’ve imagined that a pandemic would put a kink in those plans.As Blanton begins scheduling tournaments for next school year, Davenport said Missouri Western hopes to get back into normal operation in the fall, as well.“Given where we are today, and of course things can change, but it is our intent that we will return to something much more like a normal slate of activities, opportunities for travel, etc,” Davenport said.Despite the troubles that the club has faced, Blanton has no intention of stopping. He is currently a junior and will have one more year to lead the club. He’s hoping to find someone just as passionate as he is about the sport to take over the club once he graduates.“I worked really hard to get it started and it would be kind of discouraging to know that it was just going to fade away,” Blanton said.”If anyone is interested in joining the fishing club, they can email Blanton at [email protected] He intends to submit a third proposal soon with hopes of meeting once as a club before the semester ends.
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