Sander Smith, a freshman majoring in electrical engineering with a specialization in intelligence, started the non-profit Special Angler Foundation to help those with special needs break into the world of competitive fishing.
According to the foundation’s website, their goal is “to promote the inclusion of the special needs community in general public freshwater and saltwater fishing tournaments.”
Sander Smith said he has been fishing his entire life. The idea for the organization began in the minds of Sander Smith and his father, Joe Smith.
“My dad suggested getting special needs kids involved with it because my brother is autistic,” Sander Smith said.
Sander Smith’s brother, Travis Smith, won the Youth Angler award in 2012, and the tournament award is named after him.
“We decided we could make it a tournament, a whole category,” Sander Smith said. “(We could) have money, prizes and plaques to be able to award these kids for their
According to Sander Smith, the organization is “designed to bring the joy of fishing to a wider range of people, including (those with) special needs, primarily by getting them involved in fishing tournaments.”
This past August, the foundation participated in its first tournament, the Lancaster County Little League Spanish Mackerel Tournament. The cash prizes were “the first known cash payouts in any fishing tournament to individuals with intellectual disabilities,” according to the foundation’s website.
Sander Smith said he believed the tournament was a success because it received a lot of press and raised awareness. There was a lot of participation and involvement, and the foundation was invited back to next year’s Spanish mackerel tournament.
“In the end, it was done with the help of several dozen people,” Sander Smith said.
They aim to make the organization available to a wider range of people farther down the East and Gulf Coast, Sander Smith said.
According to Sander Smith, many people were eager to help the foundation expand, as donation money poured in rapidly.
“We actually had to stop people from donating,” Sander Smith said. “People started giving too much, way past what we needed to fund the prize money. The director of the fishing tournament was afraid that this part of the tournament would overshadow the rest of the tournament.”
Sander Smith said that watching the kids get the awards makes the whole process worth it.
“These kids love getting plaques and awards,” Sander Smith said. “It’s great to see people having so much fun. I am familiar with a lot of families with special needs kids, and ordinarily, they would not get out there and go fishing because it is too much of a hassle. It is time-consuming and expensive, but when you have the motivation of a community event, it turns into something totally different.”
According to their website, the Special Anglers Foundation will participate in the Colonial Beach Chamber of Commerce Rockfish Tournament Nov. 9-10, 2013.
To donate or learn more about the Special Anglers Foundation, visit their website specialangler.org