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Local student plans to fish his way through college

Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer • Updated Mar 10, 2014 at 10:45 PM

Lots of students have been accused of skipping class to go fishing.

But for Lebanon's Tyler Beck, going fishing IS going to class.

Beck, a senior at Wilson Central High, will attend Bethel University this fall on a partial fishing scholarship.

Several colleges and universities around the country have fishing teams, but Bethel, located in McKenzie, Tennessee, is one of a few that offers grants-in-aid to its student anglers.

The scholarships vary from $1,000 to $4,000 per term. The New York Times and other national media have done features about Bethel's unique scholarship fishing program.

"I heard about Bethel's fishing team through some acquaintances," says Beck, whose father Mickey is a veteran on the semi-pro fishing circuit.

"I was looking for a college to attend this fall, and I decided to check out Bethel. I did, and I liked everything about it. It's a small, Christian university that's fairly close to home. And of course I liked the fact that it has a fishing team. I've always enjoyed fishing. I started going with my dad probably before I could walk -- he'd toss me into the boat."

Beck contacted Bethel's fishing coach, Gary Mason, to see what were his chances of making the team. Mason invited him to visit the campus for a meeting.

Mason, who joked in a New York Times story that he is always looking "for the Michael Jordan of fishing," was impressed by the Lebanon youngster. He told Beck to send him his academic transcripts, some personal recommendations, and other information and he would submit it to the school's admissions department.

Shortly afterwards, he contacted Beck to inform him that his admissions requirements are in order, and that he can join the "Bass Cats" fishing team when he reports to the university this fall.

"That's really about all I know right now," Beck says. "There are 10 or 12 members on the team (male and female) with a range of scholarships. Mine is about one-third of a full grant-in-aid."

Bethel's athletic teams compete in the NAIA, or small-college division. The fishing team is listed as a "Club Sport" on the university's website.

Bethel's fishing team competes against other university teams in collegiate tournaments primarily in the South and Southeast.

Members of the team are required to attend practice sessions and instructional classes during the week, much the same as other scholarship athletes.

"Coach Mason said it will require a lot of time," Beck says. "In addition to fishing, we have to carry a full academic load and maintain our grades."

Beck plans to major in physical training, with a goal of someday working as a trainer on a sports team, either college or pro. Unlike many collegiate fishermen, he is not pinning his future around a career on the professional circuit.

"I will always enjoy fishing," he says, "and I plan to keep doing it, but not as a profession."

Meanwhile Beck will be spending lots of time this spring and summer on area fishing lakes, doing some pre-college homework.

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