Signing day for bass fishing: All-American Alec Berens picks McKendree

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Minooka coach Stan Tischer adjusted Alec Berens’ jersey after he signed a letter of intent for bass fishing at McKendree University. Berens is flanked by his mother Julie and father David with McKendree coach Jon Rinderer in back.
Credit: Dale Bowman

After signing his letter of intent to bass-fish for McKendree University, Minooka senior Alec Berens shucked his gray sweater vest and pulled a Bearcats jersey over his white shirt and (McK) purple tie.

‘‘A lot of people don’t know that you can get scholarships, business opportunities,’’ said Berens, who will study business administration. ‘‘It is a growing sport, and over the next five-plus years, it will get a lot bigger.’’

In 2010, Bethel University became the first school to offer a bass-fishing scholarship.

Minooka activities director Hillary Holden spoke for many when she said she had to be there for Berens because, ‘‘This is the first time for somebody in activities to get a scholarship [for an activity].’’

Bass fishing is a coed activity for the Illinois High School Association. At McKendree, bass fishing is a coed scholarship sport. McKendree, founded in 1828, is the oldest college in Illinois.

Coach Jon Rinderer, who joined McKendree in 2013, recruits nationwide. Fishing scholarships are sweeteners. Rinderer can offer $1,000 to $3,000 on top of the usual collection of financial aid students put together.

More important, McKendree picks up out-of-state license fees, memberships (BASS, FLW, etc.), gas for boats and vehicles, motel costs (fishermen can spend 86 nights on the road) and boat storage.

‘‘They concentrate on school and fishing,’’ Rinderer said.

‘‘The classes are online, the notes and stuff,’’ Berens said. ‘‘I think I will do OK.’’

Rinderer started watching Berens two years ago because of his ‘‘personality and the fact that he gets out and travels.’’

‘‘I knew he was ready to fish tournaments at 14,’’ dad David said.

As a father-and-son team, they reached the championship the last three years for the Angler’s Choice circuit on Braidwood Lake.

‘‘[Berens] is very versatile,’’ Minooka coach Stan Tischer said. ‘‘Fishing is like golf. In golf, you have different clubs. In fishing, you have different sticks.’’

Tischer said another of Berens’ strengths is his ability to skip and pitch.

Jerry Sandretto, Berens’ most frequent boat caption, said you could tell right away Berens was good because he didn’t need coaching to be ready.

‘‘He likes jig fishing and worm fishing,’’ Sandretto said. ‘‘He’s got the patience to fish slow. He likes working at it.’’

Earlier this month, Berens was one of 12 named to the Bassmaster High School All-American Fishing Team. He won five tournaments in the last year and was a double qualifier for the 2018 B.A.S.S. Nation State Championship. He also has been active in the Minooka Anglers Club’s civic and conservation projects.

Minooka’s Alec Berens (right) and Wyatt Pazdro weighing in at the 2017 IHSA state championship for bass fishing.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman

Minooka’s Alec Berens (right) and Wyatt Pazdro weighing in at the 2017 IHSA state championship for bass fishing.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Berens again will team with sophomore Wyatt Pazdro as the top Minooka team and fish the Heidecke Lake Sectional on May 3. In 2017, they finished eighth at the IHSA state championship.

It has been a fishing life.

‘‘First time I fished?’’ Berens said. ‘‘There are pictures of me in the boat still in a baby cradle, so I have been around it my whole life.’’


My favorite confirmation photo on the Illinois Morel Mushrooms Facebook page is of morels on a Sox ticket from Saturday.

Stray cast

Like the distended air bladder on a perch pulled from 70 feet of water, an NBA thought popped into my head: ‘‘How’s that Phil Jackson experience going for the Knicks?’’

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