Saturday, February 24, 2024

2015 Reel American Heroes Tournament: Serving Those Who Serve Us By Bruce Callis

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2015 Reel American Heroes Tournament: Serving Those Who Serve Us

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On Saturday morning, July 25, 2015, the car lights filtered down the winding road to Hope Springs Marina. The 5th Annual Reel American Heroes Foundation was about to happen. Cars with wounded warriors, volunteers, and trucks with bass boats made the left hand turn on the gravel driveway and made their way to their assigned locations. A volunteer stood at the entrance, directing them in to the next volunteer who further directed them to the correct parking location or to the boat ramp. Like a finely tuned machine, everyone worked to ensure everyone was taken care of personally.
For some, this was their first year as a volunteer boater, or as a shore volunteer, but for most, this was at least their second year. But what happens on Saturday didn’t happen overnight. When the tournament ended last year, the fundraising and planning started the next day. Through the hard work of Ron DeFreitas, his wife Maria, son Jason and daughter Ashley, and the other members of the RAHF staff, every dollar that is raised is converted into what you see on the day of the tournament. Weekends spent in front of Bass Pro Shops in Hampton, sales of RAHF gear, sponsors, and donations from individuals make up every penny of the budget for the year. What so many organizations do is through paid staff, but not RAHF, Ron insists on doing for nothing. His pay is the help he gives to each warrior. Ron says “It is an honor and a privilege to host this tournament for them.”
The day is marked with anglers talking about their passion. While there are the professional anglers present, giving their time to honor these men and women, they are not paid to be there. John Crews, Paul Elias, Shaw Grigsby, Ish Monroe and David Mullins took time out of their busy schedule to be here because it is important to them. Many left right after the awards to drive up to New York for the Elite tournament that starts Thursday. But the remaining boaters, over 80 in total, were weekend anglers, and lower level tournament anglers. They drove here for the same reason, to honor our warriors. They came from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, and Virginia; from the BFL, the Rayovac, the Priority, the VBL and other local clubs, all giving their time.
As the boaters and warriors arrived, they were registered and paired up for the day. The warriors were given a new Lews rod and spinning reel and a tackle box, which was theirs to carry home. The day dawned and the opening ceremony began. The Color Guard presented the colors, Cameron Barrett sang the National Anthem, and a prayer, then the signal was given to go fishing and the fun started.
As much as it was a competition and awards would be given out to those who caught the biggest bag, with the boater being allowed 2 bass and the remaining 3 being warrior caught, it was more about the fun. The fishing was tough, but the laughter plentiful. It was about bringing a bit of normalcy to the men and women who are suffering from their service to our country. A couple warriors had their day cut short due to mechanical failure, but not one warrior complained; they were just so glad to have gotten out on the water. At 2 pm, the boats started to arrive back for the weigh-in and lunch. A good crowd stood around the weigh-in tent, cheering on each team as they came forth. There was only one 5 fish limit caught on this day, but that did not matter. The big fish was weighed in early, a beautiful 4 pound bass, but there were some nice 3 plus pound fish that came close. Proudly each warrior held up their catch for the many cameras taking pictures. The funniest time was when Shaw Gribsy’s team mate made it to the scales and Shaw was putting his gear away on the boat. As he was alerted to the moment, he sprang like a spring chicken off his boat and hustled to the scales to the delight of all there.
With all the fish weighed, everyone made their way over to the delicious meal prepared for them. Pulled pork, chicken, sausage, corn-on-the-cob, coleslaw, beans, and rolls awaited each hungry person, and there was plenty to be had. No one left hungry for sure! But the time was spent, not in silence, but with stories of the day, tips shared on techniques, fishing stories from the past, and plans for the future. Laughter filled the air for the entire time until everyone was called over to the awards ceremony. As each winner was announced, loud applause welcomed them forward and each boater and warrior was given the opportunity to claim a prize from the respective table. The smile on the warrior’s face light up the bright sky. For just that one day, their problems seemed to disappear, to take a back seat, and a small amount of normalcy shined through. May it stay there forever.

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