BRIGHTON — Brighton High School has been known for its athletic prowess over the years.
The hockey team is the defending Division 1 state champions. The girls golf team is a contender for a Division 1 state title later this month.
But four Brighton students will have a chance at a national title next summer.
Brighton is one of several schools in the area that competes in bass fishing tournaments across the state, and the four, who compete in groups of two, have qualified for a national meet next summer.
Ryan Ferrance and Logan Johnson finished second in the Michigan BASS Nation national qualifier over the summer. It was a four-day qualifier July 8-9 in Lake St. Clair, Aug, 19 at Gun Lake in Barry County and Aug. 20 at Devil’s Lake in Lenawee County.
The top two teams qualified for nationals, which will be held next summer at a location to be announced.
The other team, consisting of Kyle Verhelle and Sean Mercier. qualified by winning a tournament in Grand Haven two weeks ago in 90-degree heat.
Tom Kiefer, a longtime competitive bass fisherman and a former football coach at Brighton high school, has guided the squad, now in its third season.
“At our first meeting of the school year, we had 25 new members show up,” Kiefer said last week. A lot of word of mouth is getting out. We have more than we can handle at this point, but it’s great to see the interest.”
Kiefer believes Brighton is the only school with two teams in the tournament at this point. The winning team will see each member get a $5,000 scholarship check.
Part of the Verhelle-Mercier team’s success in the Grand Haven tournament was in its prefishing of the Grand River, which empties into Lake Michigan at Grand Haven.
“We found they were more off the main river, in little coves and little canals under lily pads,” Mercier said. “Once we found them out, we were just throwing (lures) around.”
They used artificial frogs (all lures in MBN tournament are artificial) and finished first with 26.43 pounds of bass caught over the two days.
Ferrance and Johnson also competed and were second after the first day, two slots ahead of Verhelle and Mercier. But they opted to look for fish in Lake Michigan and weren’t as successful on the second day.
“A lot of people tried to go to a spot on Lake Michigan, and it didn’t seem a lot of people caught them there,” Mercier said. “We just stuck with throwing frogs in the river, and that’s where we caught them.”
Temperatures were in the 90s during the tournament, held Sept. 23-24.
“People don’t understand how mentally and physically tough it is to do it and do it well,” Kiefer said. “A lot of people go out and throw a few casts out and then sit down and eat a sandwich or take a nap. But that’s not what they do. These guys fish every minute of every day. They barely stopped to take a drink of water. That effort pays of fin the end, like any other sport.”
Kiefer said Ferrance and Johnson’s finish also was outstanding.
“To be consistent over four different tournament, four different types of water, to come out the way they did is an amazing feat,” Kiefer said.
The team has gotten major financial support from Macklin Mechanical of Brighton. Hungry Howie’s and Reliable Landscaping.
“We’re looking for more sponsors because of all these new members who are coming out,” Kiefer said.
All four Brighton fishermen are regulars on local lakes and have been fishing for as long as they remember.
Their payoff, besides jerseys that have a bulldog in front of crossed fishing rods on the front, their names on the back and sponsors logos all over, is a chance for a national title next summer.