Arundel club has talented cast of youth casters

November 05, 2006|By CANDUS THOMSON

The Neary boys - Mike and his sons, Douglas and Austin - are shooting hoops out front of their Crofton home in the warmth of a late fall afternoon.

From three-point land and inside the key, they are deadly, hitting bucket after bucket, stopping only when a plastic crawdad gets stuck in the netting.

Yes, crawdad.

The two younger Nearys are practicing their marksmanship with fishing rods and lures, popping in shots with a precise flick of the wrist. There's a little bit of trash-talking, a little bit of showmanship, as you might expect from guys on top of their game.

"I compete against them all the time, but I can't beat them," says Mike Neary, with a mixture of pride and envy.

Neither can anyone else in these parts.

Douglas and Austin are the state CastingKids champions in their respective age groups. Douglas successfully defended his title in the 7-10 age bracket. Austin's win, his first, was in the 11-14 group. Both boys scored 140 points, just 10 short of perfection, to become the first brother team to sweep the event.

Douglas is 10 and a fifth-grader at Crofton Elementary School. About a foot taller, Austin is 13 and an eighth-grader at Crofton Middle School.

They love math, fishing and the Boston Red Sox.

Two years ago, their father founded the organization, Junior Pro-Formance Youth Fishing Club, that has turned the middle of Anne Arundel County into central casting.

Alex Thomas, the 2005 state and 2006 national champ in the 11-14 age group, lives just around the corner. "He can cast anything with a line on it. Under trees, over trees. He's unbelievable," Mike Neary says.

Alex's brother, Hunter, placed third in this year's Junior Mr. Bass contest, run by the Maryland Bass Federation.

Josh Stowe of Severna Park finished just behind Douglas Neary in the CastingKids event. Neighbor Kenny Cullember was this year's Junior Mr. Bass runner-up.

Pro-Formance draws members from as far as the Eastern Shore, Pennsylvania and Washington.

"They all share a love of fishing," Mike Neary says. "There's some instruction on my end, but there's more success in kids teaching kids."

Having won the state competition at Bass Pro Shops Outdoors World last weekend, the Neary boys are enjoying some down time before the semifinals in Alabama in January, when they'll face the top youth casters from the six regional bass federations.

And if they clear that hurdle, they'll be going to the finals at the Bassmaster Classic in February in Birmingham, Ala.

That same month, Austin also will compete in the Junior World Fishing Championships on Alabama's Lake Logan Martin.

To get ready for their next events, the boys probably will cast 200 times a day.

CastingKids works the same way as the NFL's Punt, Pass and Kick competition. Each contestant has to show accuracy in three disciplines: pitching, flipping and casting.

They flip from 10 feet, pitch from 20 feet and cast from 30 feet. The target is a bull's-eye with circles of 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 points.

Do they feel the pressure?

"I do. He [Austin] doesn't," Douglas says. "I'm scared to death. My hands don't shake, they sweat. I just think, `50-50-50-50.' "

Austin says he keeps the jitters away by concentrating on his father's instructions.

"He tells me what score I need to get ahead. I program that in my mind and then I try to match that or go above it," he says.

Since the event's inception 10 years ago, more than 1 million young anglers have participated in the Bassmaster CastingKids competitions across the country, winning more than $2 million in cash, prizes and scholarships. Thomas earned a $5,000 scholarship for winning the national championship.

Mike Neary is proud of his boys, but he also puffs up with pride when he talks about the fishing club.

"I started it because Austin really liked fishing and I was looking for some competition to make him better. I got online to look for organizations and found the Maryland Bass Federation," he says. "We needed six kids to start a club, and soon we had more than a dozen."

While competition is the foundation of the club, it isn't to the exclusion of fun and friendship.

This year, Mike Neary instituted a scoring system that awards all competitors a point for participation and a point for catching a fish. Even if a kid catches a lunker - one of the three biggest fish of the tournament - it's still worth just one point.

"There are no prizes for the winners and no prizes for lunker. Every cast right up to the very last one has a chance to get a point," Mike Neary says.

All Pro-Formance's tournaments are catch and release, with one exception: if someone catches a state record fish.

"Then I think we'd try to keep it alive to donate it to the Bass Pro Shops fish tank," says the coach.

In January, club members will have a meeting to vote on tournament sites. One of their favorites is Chestertown's Pondtown Farms, a series of 23 private ponds stocked with everything from sunfish to bass.

"I wouldn't know how to stop it even if I wanted to," Mike Neary says with a smile.

Wheels of change

If you have a bicycle sitting in a garage, basement or shed and a 10-spot in your wallet, consider taking the wheels and the cash down to REI College Park on Saturday and donate them to Bikes For The World.

The Washington-based organization, founded about two years ago, works with charities in developing countries that train and hire local people to recondition bikes. The bikes are distributed to poor people who lack transportation to school and work. Last year, it sent more than 5,000 bikes to seven nations.

The $10 donation (tax-deductible) helps defer shipping costs.

The collection will take place from noon to 4 p.m. at REI College Park, 9801 Rhode Island Ave.

To learn more about the organization, go to www.bikesfortheworld.org

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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