Tournament bass fishing continues to change and grow each year. Look no further than the explosion of high school and college fishing. It has really taken off and helps to ensure that the sport of bass fishing will continue to grow. As a sign of the changing times, one college has become the first in the nation to classify bass fishing as a sanctioned sport instead of just grouping the teams with the school clubs. Tennessee’s Bethel University places bass fishing right next to baseball, basketball and football.  Since the anglers are student athletes are no different than any other sport they must work to keep up their grades in order to stay on the team and like other collegiate athletes, they vie for scholarships to go to college.  The most recent recipient is Joey Bardill who received his scholarship as part of the Next Generation Scholarship through USA Bassin.

The Bethel Bass Cats are led by Coach Garry Mason who explains how he coaches the team, “These kids come to our school and they are very good fishermen already, I am there to manage them and make sure they focus on school as well. Education is still the most important thing for them.”  The team currently has just over thirty members and continues to grow as word spreads about the school, their success and the close proximity to Kentucky Lake.

While still a Junior in High School, Illinois’ Joey Bardill has impressed many people during his short career in fishing. Last season, he was part of the winning team for the Illinois High School Bass Championship and has fished team tournaments with organizations like USA Bassin’ since he was seven years old.  His father, Chris is a big supporter and is very proud that he is going to go to school thanks to his fishing skills. “This is all new to us and we are very excited. Joey has grown up with fishing and this is a great opportunity for him,” said the elder Bardill. The father/son team has been fishing the USA Bassin Next Generation division for the past few years and are thankful for the opportunity Joey has received with this scholarship.

Joey himself is still very excited about the chance to use his four year scholarship at Bethel, “I’m really excited about this opportunity. It was really surprising that they picked me and I am looking forward to it, they have a great school and great fishing team down there,” added Bardill.  When asked about how his friends and classmates reacted to the news he said everyone was very proud of him and that it turned a few heads when he explained the program that Bethel University has at their school.

Bethel University and USA Bassin are leading the way in providing a training ground for the next generation of bass fisherman. For more information about Bethel University, visit To learn more about USA Bassin, visit

Images courtesy USA Bassin and Bethel University

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