There's a simple reason why the organizers of the "Get Hooked" fishing program try to distribute event T-shirts to the special needs students at Grand Haven Area Public Schools days in advance of when the first lines are cast.
According to many special education teachers in the district, the anticipation and excitement their students feel leading up to the event is unmatched.
"I've been told by many that it lasts the rest of the year with them," said Randy Hansen, a director of Pursuing a Dream, the foundation that started "Get Hooked" and other outdoor activities for special needs adults and children throughout West Michigan. "Some of the teachers say this is great because it calms (the students) down for the rest of the year. Just a chance for them to enjoy being outside is great. They don't get a lot of field trips."
The proof of sheer excitement was plastered all over the face of Grand Haven ninth-grader Brigid Marcinkus, who has down syndrome. Her smile spread ear-to-ear as she held on tight to a three-inch gobi caught from the Grand Haven Channel while standing on the boardwalk. The small feeder fish were the primary catch of nearly 100 special needs students who enjoyed a beautiful morning of fishing lined up on the boardwalk, but every so often there would be some commotion, and a larger fish would emerge, such as a nice-sized catfish, or even the occasional bluegill.
More than 150 elementary-aged special education students were to test their luck on the boardwalk in the second day of the event today.
Marcinkus nearly had her sixth goby of the day squirm out of her grasp, but her attention was soon diverted when there was another sharp tug on her line.
"Here comes number seven, Brigid," a volunteer yelled out.
"Whoo-hoo! Seven!," she yelled back.
She later said that she was looking forward to eating the fish, "like a fish stick."
To read more of this story, see today's print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.