When Blue Springs South High School graduates Cole Crossman and Kirk Stillwell finished third overall in the Missouri Teen Anglers Bass Fishing Tournament, they had to stifle their laughter.
“It was really funny,” said Crossman, who was a safety on the Jaguars’ 2015 state championship football team, “because when we arrive at a tournament in our little boat, with rods we bought with Christmas money, everyone kind of looks down on us, and doesn’t pay much attention to a couple of kids from Blue Springs.”
They better start paying attention as the team of Crossman and Stillwell finished 18th out of 70-plus teams at Truman Lake, 20th out of 70-plus teams at Stockton Lake and ninth out of 69 teams at Mark Twain Lake to earn a third-place overall rating and a spot in the Oct. 1 state tournament at the Lake of the Ozarks.
“It’s so great because I get to go out and fish with one of my best friends, and my dad,” Kirk Stillwell said, referring to his dad, Bob. “To finish third overall is pretty special. I think we surprised a lot of people.”
Bob Stillwell was not one of them.
“Both of these kids attempted to get the high school involved with the fishing,” Bob Stillwell explained. “They even had a teacher willing to be the team sponsor, but they could not get any traction.
“What really impressed me was that the kids decided to compete anyway. This of course involved me getting the proper insurance on the boat, taking CPR training and traveling with the boys to the tournaments. The kids are required to have an adult in the boat. I’m not allowed to fish or drive the trolling motor. Basically I eat, talk and enjoy time with the boys.”
When they were juniors, Crossman said he will never forget driving up to their first tournament.
“Let’s just say the other high school kids had a lot better equipment than we did,” Crossman said, laughing. “But that just made us want to work harder to have success.”
Kirk and his father shared Crossman’s enthusiasm.
“High school fishing tournaments are amazing,” Bob said. “Imagine 200 some kids fishing out of boats that cost $50,000. Most of the teams have uniforms and many have professional fishermen as the guide for the kids.
“Enter my son and his friend Cole, riding in a 16-foot, 1993 Aluminum Sylvan Boat with a 60-horsepower Mercury motor, and the dad as the boat captain. No sponsors, no uniforms, no professional guides, just kids who love to fish.”
And defy the odds.
Crossman and Stillwell finished third in the North Division of Missouri. They will be competing at state, and on Oct. 14-15, they will travel to Table Rock Lake for the Midwest Shootout, an event that features the top 10 teams from the North, South and Arkansas divisions.
“The kids with sponsors, who are also affiliated with their schools, usually go to events a day early, and fish the lake and find some good spots,” Crossman said. “We roll up on Saturday. We fish the lake and then the competition takes place on Sunday.
“And we love it. We both are going to Missouri State University – really, it just kind of happened that way, we didn’t plan it – and we’re going to be part of Missouri State’s fishing team, which is pretty exciting.”
Both former Jaguars started fishing with relatives when they were young, and their passion never waned.
“We get to fish, we’ve had some success and we’re having as much fun as anyone could ever imagine,” said Stillwell, a second-team all-conference defensive lineman from the football state championship team. “It was so cool to win a state championship, and now, we’re getting to experience that kind of success in fishing.”