AS THIS ISSUE GOES TO PRESS, we will be in Fort Worth at the Texas Future Farmers of America (FFA) Convention. Then, as the mail trucks are delivering the issue to homes across Texas, we will be in Corpus Christi at the annual conference of the Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association of Texas (VATAT).
Attending these gatherings has been an annual event for TEXAS FISH & GAME since the early 1990s. In fact, we’ve been sharing our outdoors content with ag teachers and students so long that there are now 20-year veteran teachers who remember reading FISH & GAME in their classes when they were students.
We’ve written about our partnership with Texas ag teachers a number of times. The centerpiece of the partnership is a classroom subscription program that we developed for the Wildlife and Recreation Management Course that ag departments began offering almost thirty years ago. The course not only provides education on wildlife and the many ways available for Texans to enjoy those resources, but it also gives students an opportunity to obtain their hunter safety certificate while taking the course.
As we have written, the course was wildly popular from the beginning. In fact, the hunter safety component was responsible for attracting a wave of non-ag students.
After three decades, the class has remained highly popular. At the conferences each year, as we renew existing class subscriptions and sign up new teachers, it is not unusual for the student counts for a single school to exceed 100. We have 750 schools in the program now, and expect to add another hundred to two hundred schools this year. This enables us to reach more than 40,000 students each semester. Because it is a one-semester class, that means that each year we are exposing our outdoor content to more than 80,000 Texas young people. Another 200 schools will get us in front of more than 100,000 students.
In a crazy world where people across multi-generational divides continue to retreat further and further into the isolated confines of their mobile devices, where virtual reality becomes more and more attractive than genuine reality, and where, in such a disruptive cultural environment hunting and fishing seem destined for irrelevance, we have found a spark of hope that there are large numbers of young people who still want a connection to the outdoors, in a real and meaningful way.
For as long as we have been nurturing this bond with teachers and students, the fishing and hunting industries have been bemoaning the “inevitable” shrinking of their universes and preaching the need to recruit youth to the sports. “Take a Kid Fishing” has been an industry-promoted directive and rallying cry for decades now. Youth hunts and special youth seasons have been used to recruit young people to the gun sports. High school bass fishing has become a successful interscholastic sport across the country. Despite these laudable efforts, the declines in participation numbers continue, unabated.
Which is why, year after year, we keep getting new shots of adrenaline with our annual excursions to the FFA and VATAT gatherings. If there is a future for fishing and hunting, the heart of it lies in these organizations and with these groups of kids. They represent the nucleus of enthusiasm for traditional outdoors sports. As agriculture students and FFA members, you would expect these kids to be inclined toward traditional interests such as fishing and hunting. But it is also affirming to see the diversity of ethnic and geo-demographic makeup of the students. Some of the highest class counts we sign up each year come from some of Texas’s larger inner city schools.
Outdoor industry leaders continue their appeals and warnings about the need to recruit new blood to the ranks of anglers and hunters.
Well, we’re doing it in great numbers here in Texas… helping educate 80,000 future sportsmen every school year. And we’re doing it with hardly any support from our own industry. Imagine what we could accomplish with this enormous opportunity if we could get the industry behind it.
We’ll keep you posted on that.