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Holinger: Academic angling proves the best of sports to coach

Marmion Academy freshmen Dennis Hayes stands with Daniel Lin, who is holding a 
2.5-pound largemouth.
Marmion Academy freshmen Dennis Hayes stands with Daniel Lin, who is holding a 2.5-pound largemouth.

For 34 years, I’ve been a coach-less high school teacher.

No sweat-stained armless sweatshirts to soak in Lestoil, no laryngitis the first week of practice.

Until now – meaning I can join the coaches’ table.

“How’d practice go, Rick?”

“Tough,” I grimace. “Got to the lake at 6:15, sun just comin’ up, cool enough for a windbreaker. By 6:30, kids had spinners, jigs and Rattle Traps ripplin’ the surface. Told ’em to correct for the slight cross breeze. By 7, some anglers donned sunglasses. Rocky banks demanded sure footing. By 7:45, temps reached a sweltering 72 degrees.”

“Glad I coach football.”

“Mental game’s the hardest to tackle – no pun intended,” I chortle. “Get a young’un casting for a 4-pound bass, landing instead a 7-inch sunny or 5-foot weed, I tell ’em, ‘You’ll improve. Our fishing team’s senior captains, when freshmen, couldn’t hook the broad side of a lily pad. Now they’re landin’ IHSA weight-worthy largemouth bass.’ ”

Actually, I come to coaching with little to offer besides my lifelong love of fishing. Sure, I can tie a fisherman’s knot and know the difference between Rooster Tail and Mepps spinners. But when Joe Large, Marmion Academy’s head fishing coach, reels off (pun intended) factors studied before going out, I’m humbled.

“I always check the weather forecast, barometric pressure, moon phase, wind directions and seasonal patterns so I can decide on location, depth, lure selection and technique.”

No matter how skilled, no angler escapes literal and metaphorical tangled lines – but they make the best stories.

“During one tournament,” Joe reminisced, “I embedded the trailer hook of a spinner bait deep in the back of my head. After shaking off the feeling that someone hit me with a sledge hammer and taking a few Advil, I managed to finish the last six hours of the tournament before heading to the emergency room. Needless to say, I don’t use trailer hooks anymore.”

A fisher’s best moments replay like a film loop. Co-captain David McCauley remembered a tournament when fishing “against a good team, but we bonded with them, talked about what they liked to use or do when fishing. We all learned some and caught some.”

Team members’ fathers and friends also help coach. When Dave Dvorak speaks about fishing, you might think the sport as much spiritual as piscatorial.

“My uncle Steve died not long after graduating high school. Wish we had more time on the water. When Steve died, part of my father died also. He never fished again. It wouldn’t have been the same without his best friend fishing alongside him.”

No true angler goes out just to snag fish. They go for something that surely differs for each person, but proves equally rewarding for all.

As co-captain Matt Zadorozny put it: “I go on the water plenty of times and don’t catch anything. But fishing with friends and the team, you get away from daily stresses and just enjoy life.”

So, even when you lose, you win. Sounds like a good way to catch life.

• Rick Holinger has lived in the Fox Valley and taught high school since 1979. His poetry, fiction, essays, criticism and book reviews have appeared in numerous literary journals, including “The Iowa Review” and “Boulevard.” He founded and facilitates the St. Charles Writers Group and has a Ph.D. in creative writing. Contact him at

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