by Diana Cook
One reason adult advisors for the Bridge House Brats are able to lead a successful summertime of activity for so many young people of Phoenix is the range of support they receive from individuals and businesses within and around the community. From the teens supervisors, to the River Rats to local sponsors, something is going on almost everyday that keeps active youngsters engaged. And leading the pack each summer are those workers assigned through AmeriCorps, who help plan and implement much of the riverfront schedule.
On Wednesday, July 27, that activity centered around a Children’s Fishing Derby on Lock Island. Monitoring and assistance came with direct oversight from this year’s two AmeriCorps workers, Anthony Furco and Ben Manzer. Although they organize daily activities for the kids, the fishing derby was the primary ‘community involvement’ project this year, required of all locally assigned AmeriCorps workers.
They gathered in the parking area across the bridge and across from Baseball Bob’s and quickly signed in about 12 participants the morning of July 27, all of whom were anxious to cast their lines into the water for fun and prizes.
It’s a slow, somewhat relaxed process - fishing is. Amidst the quiet of the morning, every now and then, a cry would come up from the concrete embankment or from down the road - “Someone caught a fish!” Sudden scrambling would lead those in monitor-mode to the bucket and scales - to weigh the prized catch of children under age 11, running forward with a fish dangling on the line.
The fish would plop in the bucket, the weight recorded, before the hook would be removed and the fish run back to the water - quick, quick - for release. Then just as quickly, kids would regroup and run back for their fishing posts.
Although participants needed to bring their own poles, “Some of them have never even fished before,” said Furco, “but they give it a shot and we help them out.”
During the event, one girl had to have her fishing line untangled, and it was Manzer and Furco left with the “e-e-w-w” of grasping a slimy fish, dislodging the hook, and carrying it back to the river.
A stroll from fishing spot to fishing spot found kids very focused and simply enjoying the out of doors. This particular experience, while somewhat subdued, is one that fit well with new AmeriCorps guidelines, which require these AmeriCorps leaders to engage kids in health, physical fitness and healthy nutrition-based activities, as the result of the health and nutrition focus brought about with the support of First Lady Michelle Obama.
Because of these guidelines, planned physical activities are more a part of the Bridge House Brats landscape this summer. The numbers continue to climb down at the Bridge House which presents a bit of a challenge, with 74 kids signed up as brats. To deal with the sheer numbers, volunteer coordinator Cathy Lee has found it necessary to schedule half the kids each day of the week, and charge the AmierCorps workers with keeping them busy, especially on days when river and dock traffic is slow.
To provide a structure and meet required guidelines, specific fitness fun has also become part of the daily program.
“Monday we put them through a mini boot camp,” says Manzer. Boot camp includes leading the kids in calesthenics and other physical activities. Tuesday, Furco says, “there’s yoga”, led by a local Phoenix bus driver willing to donate time. Wednesdays have included “Pop Rocks and Nerds” activities, and other days have found kids participating in dance, like Zumba, or practicing for end of year dance performances they will present to the community.
Throughout the day, when greeting visitors, serving meals or park maintenance is taken care of, kids also play board games, wiffle ball, and other organized games.
On July 27, at the Children’s Fishing Derby, it was certainly mostly a waiting game by the river, interjected with flurries of running back and forth in excitement. A total of five fish were landed in the two hours of fishing fun. At 11 a.m. it was time to wrap things up and declare the day’s winners.
With a fish weighed in at 1 pound - 1.2 ounces, Ryan Button took first prize. He had the choice of $25, or a new fishing pole from Lock 1 Bait and Tackle and chose the fishing pole. The second prize winner, Taylor Ashby, who brought in a 10.2 ounce bass, then received the alternative prize of $25. Samantha Brown, who had come to fish with her grandpa, Bill Brown, came in third place with a three ounce fish and went home with a free large cheese pizza from Cam’s.
There were other participation prizes for remaining fishing competitors, primarily coupon discounts and free items at Larkin’s Restaurant and State Street Cafe.
The mood in and around the derby was light-hearted, full of active exploration, new experiences and loads of laughter and play, with everyone going park to the park, or towards home, quite happy.
“It’s kept us busy,” Manzer says, speaking to the range of activities running through the park, including this first-time fishing derby. “We find it fun ... the kids find it fun ... and, well, it’s just fun for everyone!”