Fishing for Bryan

This past weekend I had the opportunity to participate in the amazing 2007 Bryan T. Reese C.A.S.T. For Kids event at Shawnee Park. 


This event provides an opportunity for at-risk youth from Kansas City, Missouri to participate in a day of fishing, having fun, eating bar-b-que and making new friends.

The event is organized in honor of Bryan Reese who died three years ago in a car accident.  I never knew Bryan, but his sister, Liz Birch, and family are friends of ours that we met through our church.  One of the most wonderful parts of the event is to hear Bryan’s family and friends tell his story and honor his memory.  The most relevant memory for the day is one shared by Bryan’s father.  One day the two of them were talking and Bryan’s father asked him, “What would you do if you could do anything you wanted?”  Bryan replied, “I would take kids fishing that otherwise would not have the chance.  Give them a hobby they might love for life.”

And so we fished.

Each volunteer (about 50 of us) were paired with a youth (about 40 in all).  Kennadi and I were fishing buddies.

Kennadi is a sweet sweet girl.  She’s 10 years old and had never held a fishing pole before this Sunday.  I must say it had been some time since I had cast out the old rod (or is it a pole?).  My memories of fishing with each of my grandfathers are wonderful.  One time in Louisiana my granddaddy took my sister, Morgana, and me fishing and we were using crickets, held in a cage, as bait.  Morgana, who is always concerned about the life and well-being of all animals, freed most of the crickets on the dock before we could get much fishing done.  After wrangling a few crickets on the end of our poles (and inadvertantly feeding most of the fish with a swarm of recently-freed crickets) we then proceeded to catch a turtle and then a boot.  I think we saw an alligator or something and flipped out so granddaddy took us home.  We loved it.  My grandpa would also take us fishing in the park in Nebraska.  I remember the warm summer days, the quiet stillness of the park, the coolness of the breeze off the pond and getting ice cream on the way home!  Wonderful.

When I heard about this event I couldn’t pass up the chance to participate in creating a memory for a child who had never had such an opportunity to go fishing.  So, down to the pond we trudged our pole and tackle box, some mysterious bait-like substances and a life jacket.  It was a beautiful day–overcast, fortunately, to keep the hot July sun off our faces.  We attached some mystery bait and figured out how to toss the line into the pond a few feet.  Many of our first attempts got snagged in nearby plants, trees and nearly some other participants, but then–in that undeniable way that kids are able to catch on so quickly and amaze us–Kennadi soon seemed like she had been fishing for years.

I wasn’t sure how long she’d be able to stand there, line cast into the water, staring at the red and white bobber not making a move.  My own kids have about a one minute attention span and I wasn’t sure that a 10-year-old girl who had no previous fishing experience would be able to stay out there and wait…

and wait…

But then I realized, waiting is one of the wonderful, relaxing aspects of fishing.  And somehow she found this patience–touched with hope for a bite–and she really enjoyed it.  We enjoyed it.  After a couple of hours, with no bite, we headed back for lunch.

And a balloon release…

A water balloon toss!!!

Face painting

A ring toss for soda

But, Kennadi kept wanting to head back to the lake.  So we started to head back down to the lake to see if we could catch a fish.  On the way down we passed a sign posted in the fire-pit in the middle of the camp.  “Fishing for Bryan”, she read.  “Who’s Bryan?”

Oh wow.

Surely, the group Higher M-Pact, an organization that reaches out to at-risk youth and who organized the boys and girls to come out here, had mentioned Bryan.  We had been talking about him all day at camp, over lunch, even the t-shirts we were wearing had his name. 

I didn’t know Bryan and Kennadi didn’t know him.  But we were brought together that day because of Bryan, because of a dream he had and because his family and friends wanted to honor him, to remember him and to give some kids a chance to love fishing as he did.   I cannot imagine a better way to honor a person’s life than to reach out to give others an opportunity that they might not otherwise have.  We were all there for different reasons that day–some to honor a memory, some to support our friends, some just to get a chance to catch a fish.  But we were all there for Bryan, because of Bryan, whether we knew it or not. 

Kennadi and I found a spot on the “island” down by the pond in the shade out of the hot sun.  She cast out her line (a good 50 feet–what a pro) and we sat and chatted and just enjoyed being there in that time and that place.  We watched the turtles bob their heads up out of the water.  We speculated on the source of some bubbles coming from deep inside the pond.  We made predictions on how big the fish would be that we would catch. 

We didn’t catch any fish that day.  We gave it a good shot.  We had a couple of nibbles but it was not meant to be.  Earlier in the day I was worried how she might react if she didn’t catch a fish.  Would the day be a disappointment for her?  But I underestimated the impact of the entire event on Kennadi–fish or no fish–it was a tremendous success.  She slipped her hand into mine as we walked back from the lake to turn in our fishing poles and chatted the fun events of the day.  As the kids were lining up to get on the bus, I knelt down to give her a hug.  And she hugged me good and long–a second longer than I expected from a kid I met only hours ago. 

As she gathered up her bag filled with prizes, a tackle box and a plaque with her picture on it we both knew, in our own ways, that we had made an impact on each other’s lives because of Bryan and the family and friends who keep his memory and dream alive.  Peace be with you, Bryan.  Thank you.