Physically Challenged Students Angle for a Catch in Exceptional Anglers Fishing Tournament

Almost 600 students in the Jefferson and Shelby County school systems who are physically, mentally or medically challenged angled for a perfect catch during the ninth annual Exceptional Anglers Fishing Tournament at Oak Mountain State Park May 7, 8 and 9.

The special tournament was created nine years ago to provide sporting and recreational opportunities for public school students who are unable to take part in traditional physical education programs due to health concerns or disabilities. For some of these "exceptional anglers," ages 3 to 21, the annual outing is the only opportunity they have to catch a fish.

Volunteers worked with students one-on-one to help them bait the hook, cast the line, hook a fish and reel in their catch. Each student received a picture with their catch to take home to share with family and friends.

Other activities included music, art, storytelling and a picnic lunch. Thursday and Friday, students were treated to a fish fry.

Although many sponsors make the event possible, founding sponsors include Alabama Power, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the Jefferson and Shelby County school systems.

"We are involved in numerous community events to support education in this state," said Willard Bowers, vice president of Environmental Affairs at Alabama Power. "The Exceptional Anglers event allows a special group of students the opportunity to experience the outdoors and the joy of catching a fish. Why do we do it? Because the results are immediate -- you can see it on the children's faces. These children deserve more days like these."

According to Bowers, you need three things to make this event successful. "You need fish. You need children. And you need volunteers. We couldn't do it without the volunteers." Approximately 200 volunteers from Alabama Power and the Alabama Power Service Organization helped the students to experience a successful and safe outing. At least 100 volunteers from other sponsors assisted as well.

Barnett Lawley, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said, "We are committed to special citizens, and making a difference with our natural resources. That's why we are here. We are glad to have a small part in this with Alabama Power."

For Shelby County's Linda Nolen Learning Center, it was the biggest day of the year. Although the school sponsors smaller field trips, Principal Carol Adams said, "We look forward to this day all year. We close the school and the entire staff -- teachers, secretaries, janitors, all of us -- come out to ensure a very special day for all our students. Not only do the students love the outing, but without the one-on-one assistance, a school wide field trip would not be possible. For many students, this is the most exciting school event of the year." About 85 students from the Linda Nolen Learning Center participated in this year's event; approximately three-quarters of the students use wheelchairs.

On Thursday and Friday, approximately 500 physically challenged students from 34 different schools within the Jefferson County school system participated. Wanda Westbrook, adaptive physical education specialist with the Jefferson County schools, explained the importance of the outing. "One of our primary goals is to teach functional life-skills and to find recreational opportunities that suit our students' abilities. Fishing is appropriate for young and old alike, and our area is blessed with many lakes within a short drive.

"We also found that many of our students' families haven't been fishing, so this provides a wonderful family outing. We think the event introduces the whole family to a good recreational skill they can continue as the students grow up," Westbrook said.

The lake at Oak Mountain was stocked with approximately 4,000 pounds of large channel catfish, plus about 1,000 largemouth bass and 1,000 bluegill. Organizers of the event report the fish were biting. "Some of the smallest children were catching these huge catfish," Westbrook said. "It was so exciting."


  Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources - Game and Fish
   Division and State Parks
  Alabama B.A.S.S. Federation
  Alabama Power
  Coca Cola
  Desiree "Peanut" Fitts
  Jefferson County School System
  Kay Gay
  Lakeshore Foundation
  Martha and Lee Humber
  Shelby County School System
  Sunrise Rotary Club
  Syx Bait and Tackle
  Wall Street Deli - Galleria location
  Waste Management of Alabama

Alabama Power, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Company , provides reliable, affordable electricity to more than 1.3 million customers across the state.

SOURCE: Alabama Power

CONTACT: Sandi G. Robinson of Alabama Power, +1-205-257-4155, or