9/14/2019 7:30:00 AM NaturL Reaction Community spirit is the heart and soul of the Musky Classic
Jacob Friede Of the Lakeland Times
In 1977, the first administrator of the North Lakeland School District, the late Bill Sherer Sr., along with then-community education director Ken Reinicke, created what is now the World Championship Musky Classic.
Their intention was to use the musky tournament as a vehicle to help kids in the newly formed North Lakeland School District while also boosting business for the local economy after tourists had left for the year.
The hope was that fishermen would travel to the musky-rich lakes of the area, stay and fish for the weekend and patronize local businesses, and the proceeds from the tournament itself would fund a scholarship for students from the North Lakeland School who were going on to college.
That quintessential Northwoods idea turned out to be a pretty good one.
"To date we have given $188,500.00," World Championship Musky Classic Board of Directors president Beth Kebl said. "These fishermen have put a lot of kids through college."
And, through their participation in the Musky Classic, which supports the Ben Bendrick Memorial Scholarship, they've been doing it for over four decades.
This past weekend was the 43rd annual Musky Classic and it's as strong as ever. The first Classic in 1977 had 258 registered fishermen. Last weekend 688 people fished it, and the tournament, which rotates between Manitowish Waters, Boulder Junction, Presque Isle, and Winchester, consistently draws between 600 and 800 fishermen every year.
And it's not million dollar prizes that draw them. In fact, there are no monetary prizes. There are, however, over 20 magnificent trophies given away, each one sponsored by a local individual, organization, or business. Such gestures characterize the community spirit that drives the tournament.
"We have a lot of local businesses. A lot of local people that just pull together for this thing ,and it's all for the kids," Kebl said. "This is a huge opportunity for these kids."
And they're doing huge things with that opportunity.
"We've got one student right now that got a scholarship last year and she's part of NASA and she's going to be involved in the next satellite going up," Kebl said.
Bill Sherer Jr., son of the Classic's founder and owner of We Tie It Fly Shop in Boulder Junction, was the master of ceremonies at the awards ceremony this year at the Manitowish Waters community center, and he said what makes this tournament so unique is that people fish it for the love of fishing it and contributing to a worthy cause.
"Nobody's playing for money. That's the coolest part about it," he said. "They're playing for the kids of this community. For these communities to survive. They bring a lot of dollars in here."
In return, fishermen are treated to prime hospitality, the awesome musky waters of north Lakeland and a truly challenging tournament.
This exchange is a reason why, not only the tournament has lasted so long, but it's original goals have as well.
"It was always with the intent of helping the kids out in this school district," Sherer Jr. said.
The goodwill that is the foundation of the tournament is carried on by the competitors themselves.
"This tournament is like a camaraderie tournament," Kebl said. "Everybody's friends with everybody. It's no backbiting. Trying to cut them off so they can get a bigger fish. Everybody helps everybody. And these guys have all become friends."
That doesn't mean they weren't trying to win. After so many years the Musky Classic has become prestigious and those trophies are coveted.
But throughout the award ceremony, no matter who took home a prize, fishermen cheered loudly for other fishermen.
It was a family reunion-type atmosphere.
"Not only are the fishermen excited to come. The volunteers have become friends with all the fishermen," Kebl said. "I get so many hugs."
Forty-three years ago a traveling small town musky tournament was devised to help support all that is near and dear to a quartet of Northwoods towns.
Today, the Musky Classic itself is held close to the heart.
Jacob Friede may be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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