Over 300 teams entered the High School Fishing World Finals in La Crosse, Wisconsin, this weekend, and only 31 teams made it to the final day of the competition. The teams were not just competing for the championship, but they were also trying to earn various scholarships in the process.
Keegan Oettinger and Jaron Cooper, a team from the Sutherland and Hershey area, finished eighth in the tournament and earned scholarship offers to join the fishing programs at Simpson University in California and Kentucky Christian University. They were helped by their boat captain Kent Priel.
The world finals ran in conjunction with the High School Fishing National Championship. The tournament started Wednesday and ended on Saturday. The first two days were qualifiers. Each day, teams were allowed to register the weights of three fish they caught, and at the end of the fishing period on Thursday, the top-10 total weights competed in the national championship on Friday. Those teams earned an automatic bid to the world finals.
Oettinger and Cooper finished 17th in that round, hauling in 15 pounds and 11 ounces, missing out on the world finals. They did, however, earn their spot by having a top-10 weight in the semifinals round (nine pounds and five ounces). The top-10 in the semi-finals joined the teams that already qualified. The remainder of the field was determined by a second-chance round.
They finished the final day with a combined weight of 8 pounds and 3 ounces, earning a $120,000 scholarship ($60,000 each) from Simpson and an $80,000 scholarship ($40,000 each) to Kentucky Christian. In order to get the scholarship, they would have to attend the school. Both Oettinger and Cooper are rising seniors, so they will have some time to make that decision.
The Simpson scholarship was offered to each team in the top-8, while the Kentucky Christian scholarship was offered to teams finishing between fourth and 12th place.
Oettinger said on a livestream of the final weigh-in that the duo caught roughly around 60 fish during their time in La Crosse. Cooper said they had a good day in Friday’s round, catching five “keeper” fish that bumped up their total weight by about three pounds. That proved to make a difference, as it helped solidify their spot in the finals above teams just behind them in weight.