Joe Pool Lake is filled with boats, even though the sky overhead is still filled with stars. The pitch-black water is dotted with blue and red lights, and snippets of conversation are audible, because no engines can start until 6:45 am. Teenagers from Aledo, Forney, and Sanger woke up well before dawn so they could compete in a Texas High School Bass Association tournament. At quarter to 7, all the engines crank up at once, and the boats carrying two-teen teams fan out in search of fish.
The black sheep are the kids from Highland Park High School. Their program was founded by junior Sam Stewart, a lifelong fisherman who baited his first hook on a bridge near University Park City Hall and caught his biggest bass off the 13th tee box at Dallas Country Club. Stewart quit football after his sophomore season—“I just didn’t really enjoy it that much”—but he still wanted to represent his school. A team in the fledgling THSBA, which began hosting tournaments in 2013, seemed like a natural fit.
“Fishing and hunting are such big things in this community,” says Stewart, who has a part-time job at Fishin’ World, one of his team’s sponsors.
The Scots won that September tournament at Joe Pool, where Brett Hall—sponsor of Arlington Martin’s squad and announcer for the event—kept the mood light during the weigh-in. Speaking into a gold microphone, he ribbed students from Allen when they hit the stage with their catches: “How’s that stadium doing?”
A month later, Highland Park finished second at Lake Texoma, where it was the only Dallas County school in a field of 16. Heading into the spring season (which starts March 7), Highland Park is in first place in its division, ahead of 17 other schools. The Scots may be largely perceived as city kids intruding on a country game, but the results back up their inclusion.
That rural flavor was evident before dawn at Joe Pool, during a conversation with the mother of a Wise County competitor. Like Stewart, her son had traded football for fishing, but for a much different reason. “He had a brain injury last year and can’t play football anymore,” she explained. “So now this is his football.”
Did he injure himself on the gridiron? “No, he’s a crazy redneck,” she said. “He fell off the roof.”