FFCBC is sports at its purest

The Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship has come and gone for another year and once again there was no shortage of stories coming out of the event.
First, there was the team of Mark Libitka and Dave Bennett who broke through this year to capture the title after coming so close a year ago.
Who could forget Bennett standing on stage, tears in his eyes, as the realization sunk in that he and Libitka had just won the biggest tournament of their lives?
Then there was the success enjoyed by many local anglers at this year’s FFCBC event.
Morgan Cadene and Doug McBride led the charge finishing the tournament as runners-up to Libitka and Bennett.
They were joined in the top 10 by fellow district anglers Bill Godin, Wayne Howard and the team of Jim Sandelovich and Karl Howells.
The 12th edition of the FFCBC also saw its share of remarkable achievements.
Paul Jewiss and Mike Graham netted the second-largest small mouth, a 5.55 pound monster, ever caught during the tournament’s history.
And on the third day when most teams were struggling to simply find fish, never mind the big ones, Jason Berg and Brad Cline shocked the fans under the big tent at the Sorting Gap Marina by bringing in a 21.46 pound bag.
This year’s tournament also had its share of tough luck moments.
Defending champions Dave and Lee Lindsay suffered through a tough weekend of fishing and finished a disappointing 103rd overall.
Mike Luhman and Mark Raveling continued their streak of disappointing performances on Day Three of the event.
The pair sat in fifth-place heading into the final weigh-in but a bag of only 5.13 pounds saw them plummet 46 spots to finish 51st overall.
And then there was emcee Paul Morrison who, after performing his duties flawlessly for two days and 136 of the 137 teams on Day Three, misspoke the final weight of the afternoon.
The error momentarily confused the crowd who believed the team of Bill Godin and Norm Lindsay had won and couldn’t understand why Libitka and Bennett were hoisting the trophy.
The mistake was quickly corrected but you had to feel for Morrison who was visibly embarrassed by the gaff.
As the sports reporter at the Times, I got to witness most of these stories first-hand having spent the majority of my week under the big tent, wandering the docks or visiting anglers out on Rainy Lake.
It was my first experience with the FFCBC and as such, the question I was asked most often this week was, “What did you think?”
The short answer is that I enjoyed myself.
I’m not a fishing guy per se, I grew up playing team sports in southern Ontario and didn’t have access to the amazing lakes and fisheries that anyone living here enjoys.
I think that fact, coupled with the unique access I’m afforded as the Times sports reporter, gave me a different perspective from which to view the event.
As I’m sure was the case with many people, the memories that are most vivid in my mind involve the final day weigh-in.
However, my memories tend to centre around the people at that event as opposed to the size of the fish and the drama of the competition.
I had the opportunity to ride on the boats of the top ten finishers from Day Two as they were towed under the big tent in front of the big crowd.
Two things really struck me.
The first was watching the anglers interact with the crowd.
Waiting in line to be towed under the tent each of the anglers, to a man, were nervous.
They were concerned about whether they had enough weight in their live wells and whether or not one of the teams next to them had the big fish that was likely to win the event.
That all changed the minute the music started.
As each of the boats made their way into the tent, the anglers forgot about nerves and simply enjoyed playing up to the crowd.
It was something like watching kids on Christmas morning.
I don’t think I’ll ever get the image of Chip Leer jumping up and down, hooting and hollering out of my head.
The way he worked the crowd reminded me a lot of a rock star or a professional wrestler.
By the time he hit the stage, I’m pretty sure he could have cared less how he and partner Jeff Gustafson were going to fare in the event—he was that excited.
The second thing that struck me was the crowd.
At their best, sporting events have a way of creating happiness on a level that is hard to match.
As each of the boats was towed under the tent, I had the opportunity to simply sit and watch the people in the crowd.
And what I saw were people of all ages with smiles on their faces and excitement in their eyes.
I got a real kick out of watching entire families cheer like mad while trying to catch whatever the anglers happened to be throwing into the crowd.
And really, isn’t that what sports should be about?
There are a growing number of professional athletes who no longer bother to interact with the fans. They’re too busy to spare a few minutes to sign autographs or chat.
I found the attitude displayed by each of the anglers extremely refreshing. They were happy to be in front of the crowds, happy to talk to fans and excited to be involved in the event.
Imagine that.
Apparently there are still pure sporting events out there and Fort Frances is lucky enough to host one.

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