Rods, lures and other equipment are housed in a trailer donated by Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons through the Madison County Drug Fund.
The Shielded Waters mentoring program began when Granite City Police Department officers combined their love of fishing with their desire to help local youths.
“Ten years ago we found ourselves dealing with the same youth on the street consistently,” Cap. Craig Knight said. “During this time, some of us were competing in bass club tournaments. We decided that instead of only seeing us on the street, these kids could see us in a different light.”
The program’s goal is to build healthy relationships and constructive habits, such as sportsmanship, self-confidence and self-respect.
“These kids get to see authority figures, officers and people from the private sector out of uniform and off duty,” Knight said. “Fishing builds confidence. We provide the participants with a variety of good messages while using fishing as the vehicle.”
Knight, along with Officer Brian Cave, Detective Jeremy Hunter and J.C. Markell, have been keeping this fishing tradition going strong by holding five to eight Shielded Waters fishing tournaments each season. Now, children from all walks of life benefit from the program.
“At-risk kids were at the nucleus; that’s where it started,” Knight said. “But we’ve expanded beyond that. It is open to all kids now. Our message is clear: stay out of gangs, don’t do drugs, don’t be a bully. We cover the key issues children are facing today, including having respect, making good decisions and running with the right crowd. J.C., he’s the point of the spear. He addresses the issues before and during the tournament. The messages are underlying.”
At first, volunteers were lugging fishing equipment around in their vehicles, but Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons donated an enclosed trailer purchased with money from the Madison County Drug Fund. Now, fishing rods, lures and other equipment are housed in the trailer and easily hauled to tournaments.
In 2015, the program held its first fishing derby at the Fountains of Granite City, an assisted living facility, in an effort to connect young and old through fishing. The site works so well that Shielded Waters plans on holding all events there in 2016.
“The residents at The Fountains really get a kick of us having our tournament in their back yard,” Markell said. “They enjoy the interacting with the kids and watching the tournament.”
Jared Harrington, of Granite City, knows first-hand the impact this program can have on youths. He participated in the program for four consecutive years and won the Shielded Waters Youth Fisherman of the Year award in 2012.
Now a high school graduate and full-time HVAC worker, Harrington said Shielded Waters kept him out of trouble.
“I heard about the program from a friend, and I love to fish,” Harrington said. “I went and I loved everything about it. It kept me focused and kept me off the wrong path.”
Eventually, Shielded Waters even inspired Harrington to begin making and selling his own fishing lures.
“The program gave me the confidence to believe that I could make my own lures,” Harrington said. “So I taught myself how to make about six different lures, and when I used one the very first time I went fly fishing and caught a fish with the lure I had made, I was hooked. Soon friends were asking me if they could purchase my lures, and I began selling them at trade shows, too.”
Shielded Waters is supported by the Granite City Police Union PBPA Unit 15, a nonprofit organization with an official 501c3. The program also is sponsored by businesses and professional organizations that provide support and participation.
“We are approaching our 10-year mark, and we couldn’t have done it this long without five key supporters: Granite City Walmart, Andy’s Auto Body & Towing, O’Brien Tire & Service Center, chiropractor Mark Eavenson and Julie Holt at United Insurance Brokerage Firm,” Knight said. “Julie provides insurance to us at no cost, which is huge. We are covered in case of accidents. Walmart donates fishing equipment, and Andy’s, Dr. Mark and O’Brien all three donate essential cash, which is used to purchase trophies and hire a videographer. Each tournament is videotaped.”