On Saturday, August 6, 2016, the Ike Foundation®, in conjunction with the Mid-Atlantic Youth Anglers & Outdoors Program, held its first celebrity Pro-Am Bass Tournament, charity dinner and kids fishing fun day on the waterfront in Camden, New Jersey. The goal was to generate funds and awareness for introducing America’s children, especially inner city and disadvantaged youth, to fishing and the outdoors.
Yamaha Pro Mike Iaconelli was all smiles while meeting kids, signing autographs, and interacting with the crowd throughout the day.
The Ike Foundation® is the brainchild of professional bass angler Mike Iaconelli. Mike is an inner city kid himself who grew up in Philadelphia, where he was first introduced to fishing. He took to it like the proverbial fish to water. Through personal initiative and hard work he went on to become one of the leading professional tournament anglers in the world.
As host of the cable television series City Limits Fishing, Mike took his bass boat to cities around the country to show the world there are fishing opportunities to be found (even around the nation’s biggest population centers); and that kids like him, with a little help, can learn to fish and fall in love with the sport. In 2014, Mike – fans affectionately call him “Ike” – along with his wife Becky, started the Ike Foundation® with one simple goal.
“Our mission is to introduce kids to fishing and the outdoors,” he said. “Sometimes all it takes is getting them to try it. Put a rod and reel in their hands, show them how to use it and help them catch something, anything. It can be a positive, life-changing experience. Fishing can take them away from the troubles so many kids face today, whether it’s drugs, gangs or just getting them to put down the video games and cell phones.”
Yamaha BASS® Pro Dave Mercer leaves with his teammates Jonathan Forest and Pro hockey player Bryan Bickell.
The Foundation® started out with little more than good intentions and two people who had a driving desire to reach out and help kids through fishing. Mike’s indomitable enthusiasm, winning smile, and celebrity as one of the leading Bassmaster® Elite Pro Anglers helped the Foundation® gain traction. The many contacts he has made and people he has touched throughout the fishing community are rallying to support the effort and Yamaha Marine, a longtime sponsor of Mike on the tournament trail, is onboard, too.
“We applaud the Ike Foundation’s® efforts to bring the sport of fishing to kids who haven’t had the opportunity to fish,” said Martin Peters, Communications Manager, Yamaha Marine Group. “With the passion Mike brings to the sport, he and Becky are poised to inspire and educate our next generation of anglers in a very personal way, one that will help keep this national pastime alive and well.”
The Ike Foundation® Pro-Am Tournament was the first big event the Iaconellis have hosted, and it was quite an undertaking. It combined a charity bass tournament on the Delaware River with a kid’s fun fishing day and a charity dinner. All three events took place on the beautifully restored waterfront in Camden, New Jersey. Wiggins Park sits between the Battleship New Jersey and the Camden Aquarium, and offers beautiful views of the river and the Philadelphia skyline.
Becky Iaconelli, co-founder of the Ike Foundation®, also splayed an active role during the kids' fishing fun day.
“We chose Camden because it is a small city that has been struggling to throw off its past problems and create a better atmosphere for its citizens, and it is near where our family lives today,” said Mike. “It’s also directly across the river from Philadelphia where I grew up, and the waterfront facilities at Penn’s Landing are beautiful. The location let us reach out to inner city kids from both sides of the river, along with families from the surrounding suburbs.”
The Pro-Am tournament was really special. Sixteen of Mike’s fellow Bassmaster® Elite Pro anglers from around the country paid their own expenses to come to Wiggins Park Marina, with boats in tow, to provide some star power for the event. Would-be contestants paid $1,200 to “Fish with the Pros,” and all sixteen were sold out. Additional two-angler teams entered to “Fish Against the Pros” from their own boats, many from the New Jersey BASS® Federation, the organization to which Iaconelli belonged on his way to becoming a pro. The Pros were instrumental in running the tournament from the captain’s meeting to the weigh-in.
The center of Wiggins Park was set up for the kids with displays, fishing games, casting clinics, free tackle boxes courtesy of Flambeau,® rod and reel combos courtesy of Abu Garcia,® representatives from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Game, Hooked on Fishing Not on Drugs,® and much more. The park started filling up soon after the kid’s event kicked off at 11:00 a.m., and the event got bigger and better throughout the afternoon leading up to the tournament weigh-in ceremony. Kids, many with their parents or guardians, were constantly at the casting pools working with Ike Foundation® volunteers to learn how to cast. Throughout the kid’s portion of the program, Mike was a whirlwind, moving from one group to another, making sure each kid had a new tackle box and personally autographing most of them. He was smiling as much as any of the children, and excited to see the turnout and the happy faces.
Yamaha BASS® Pro Randall Tharp meets his young fishing partner for hte Pro Am tournament.
At 4:00 p.m., Mike helped emcee the weigh-in, which saw New Jersey’s own Yamaha-sponsored Elite Series Pro Joe Sancho take first place with brothers Dan and Jim Williams, both professional UFC® fighters, on his team. They weighed a five fish limit that tipped the scales at 11.53 pounds, closely followed by Pro Pete Gluszek, with Alan Anderer and Marko Wiesner, weighing in 10.56 pounds. Third place was a tie weight decided by big fish that put Pro John Crews, with his team of Colin Stewart and James Reilley, ahead of the local team of John Valdez and Keith Cowen.
Local team Michael Senatore and Shawn McKee slid in to round out the top five teams. First prize was a BassCat® bass boat valued at over $30,000.
The Ike Foundation® will use the proceeds from the event to assist civic organizations, existing youth fishing organizations, and other charitable organizations that promote fishing to both inner city and rural youth. These sponsored efforts will help teach young people the sport of fishing, the ecology of the outdoors, and each individual’s responsibility to maintain our planet’s natural resources. The Ike Foundation® is an IRS registered 501(c)3, non-profit Foundation.® Gifts to the Ike Foundation® are fully tax-deductible to the maximum extent allowed by law. To learn more about it or get involved go to www.ikeFoundation.org. Y
Yamaha Elite BASS® Pro Joe Sancho (second from left) accepts the first place trophy from Mike Iaconelli along with his team of UFC® champions, the Miller brothers.