Local high schoolers Jack Hardebeck and Andrew Wagenmaker, members of the Grand Haven Bassmasters club recently punched their ticket to next year’s national championship tournament.
There are two ways that anglers can qualify for the B.A.S.S national championship. There is the Michigan B.A.S.S nation state championship that allows high school students to participate and through that top finishers can qualify for a national championship.
The second way, the way that Hardebeck and Wagenmaker secured their position in the national tournament, is called the high school tournament trail.
There are four qualifying tournaments that students can participate in and based on the points accrued over four events can allow them to earn a national championship bid. For Jack and Andrew, they did very well in these qualifying trails. They finished 7th, 3rd, 9th and in the last tournament of the qualifier they won the whole thing and eliminated any doubt about them earning their spot in next year’s championship.
Hardebeck talked about what going through this run of tournaments was like and what they do to prepare for big tournaments like this.
“It was a grind. We took it one place at a time instead of looking ahead to tournaments down the road. We knew we had to do well in the one that was right in front of us before we could think about the other ones. We spent a lot of time pre fishing and gaining knowledge from people like Ron and Doug, and then we just applied that on the tournament day and it seemed to work out for us.” Jack said.
This run came on the heels of a year in which the two had their sights set on the national championship, and actually thought that they had earned a qualifying spot. Due to a ruling discrepancy the two were ultimately excluded and that drive led them to come back and work even harder the next year. The hard working duo has put in countless hours over the past few years, but even with that they wouldn’t be in this position without a little help.
Ron Scharphorn is the president of the Grand Haven Bassmasters and founded the club as a youth club initially. In 2013, they started a high school division and became an affiliate through the school. As the president, Scharphorn’s job is to get kids involved in the program and he tries to teach them techniques and coaches them up so they can perform in tournaments, as Scharphorn himself is a competitive angler.
Hardebeck and Wagenmaker found their way to the bassmasters club after Hardebeck learned about the club through a neighbor that participated. At that point they had not had any competitive bass fishing experience, but the bassmasters don’t turn anyone away no matter their experience and that proved to be crucial for these two young men.
Doug Veldhuizen, the vice president of the club, does boating for the club when he can. He drives the anglers during tournaments and serves as another mentor for the team. Veldhuizen told a story from the first tournament he boated for the duo and it didn’t get off to a great start.
They were unloading the boat from his truck and they let the boat float off of the trailer, hoping that after he went to park the truck they would drive the boat back in to get him. When he returned to the dock, they were 30 yards away in the water staring at him. He gives them instructions to put the trolling motor down so they can drive up to get him. Wagenmaker then responded by asking “how do you work the trolling motor?”
They have come a long way from not knowing how to work the trolling motor, Veldhuizen talked about boating a tournament for them this year and how his role has changed.
“I boated one of the events that they won at, and there’s been several of them that I sit back and watch. They are really, really good and they are spending time prior to the tournaments and it’s been a lot of fun to see what their progression has been.” Veldhuizen said.
Hardebeck’s parents told similar stories about the two and how frantic their pre tournament nights would be. They laughed about a time that they had to drive around to several stores the night before a tournament because they didn’t not have a lure that they needed.
Now, Hardebeck and Wagenmaker are pre fishing the tournament location as soon as they can, they study the map of the lake and have all of their gear laid out and ready to go. They have learned how much preparation and research it takes to reach the top level and they have put that effort in. They planned out their work schedules to match up just to ensure that when they get out of work they can go and fish together, they do that at least five days out of the week.
People like Scharphorn and Veldhuizen provided them with the opportunities to fish and learn from seasoned anglers like themselves, but they took all of Scharphorn and Veldhuizen’s knowledge and contacts and put them to good use as they have grown being apart of this club since their freshman year. Now, going into their senior year of high school they will be entering their first summer post graduation with the chance to compete for a national championship.
Their season is starting to wind down as the school year looms and the end of summer is near, but they do still have the Michigan state championship. Although, they already have qualified for nationals they haven’t lost their competitive fire.
“We still want to win, but if we don’t I won’t be mad because that was our goal for this year was to qualify.” Wagenmaker said.
The date and location for the national championship has not yet been announced, but Hardebeck and Wagenmaker will be back in the boat Aug. 15-Aug. 19 at Lake St. Clair for the high school state championship.