By Cara L. Dempski
COLFAX — For the past three years, Colfax students who are not interested in playing basketball or wrestling have had a third sport available to them.
Ice fishing is not as physically intense as other winter sports, but the students involved in the Colfax High School ice fishing club are learning just as much about teamwork and planning on the ice as their classmates on the hardwood and wrestling mats.
Club advisor Mike Dombrowski said he likes giving Colfax students another option for winter activities.
“It gives kids who don’t necessarily have skills for traditional sports and extracurricular activities a chance to support their school,” Dombrowski explained. “I love to get kids out of their bedrooms and basements and off the video games and electronics all the time.”
Dombrowski, who teaches social studies and history courses for the Colfax district, said the team has been at the high school for three years, and he has been involved in competitive high school ice fishing for the past five years. He started a team at New Auburn High School five years ago, and when he accepted a position at Colfax, he brought his knowledge to a new group of students.
The team coach/club advisor said his goal is to give as many students as possible another option without excluding students due to expense.
“The club is not sponsored by the school, so we do a lot of fundraising. The whole goal is that these kids really don’t have to spend any money,” Dombrowski explained. “Let’s get them hooked on the fishing and then we’ll worry about the money.”
The Colfax teacher said there are approximately 20 participants in the club, and he is willing to welcome anyone who wants to learn about ice fishing or try it out. The team participates in the Wisconsin Interscholastic Fishing Association (WIFA), which is a relatively new governing body.
The WIFA was formed two years ago, after six years of informal fishing among teams around the state. The organization’s website indicates a commitment to “education, conservation and management of our natural resources while building an understanding of our aquatic ecosystems and sciences.”
The website also says the WIFA’s primary goals are to get students involved in the outdoors and to become ambassadors of ice fishing through competition. Participating schools are free to schedule tournaments for other clubs to compete in. The organization’s participants do have to follow all state rules and regulations while working as a team to catch enough fish to score well.
Dombrowski explained the state tournament swaps between western Wisconsin and eastern Wisconsin each year. Last year’s tournament was held in Shawano, and this year’s will be held on the Red Cedar Chain ‘o Lakes in Birchwood on February 18. The Colfax coach is hoping to take at least two teams of 10 participants each.
Colfax took 10th place out of 55 teams in Shawano last year, which earned the team $100 and a plaque that now hangs in Dombrowski’s classroom. He said he gave each of last year’s tournament participants $10 to spend on the Gander Mountain website. The coach believes in putting the money earned by the team right back into the team’s hands for supplies.
The Colfax team
If a Colfax student is interested in learning more about ice fishing, he or she does not need to worry about finding supplies. Dombrowski and the team have enough tip-ups, lures, bait, shacks, augers and food to supply anyone who would like to give the sport a try.
In addition to participating in WIFA, there are several team members who participate in the Berkley High School Challenge, sponsored by the Berkley company. Students earn points for fishing, completing learning activities and quizzes, and serving as ambassadors for the sport. The company provides prizes to participants.
Last year, the Colfax team spent several weeks at first place in the challenge before slipping to second place. On the final day of the challenge, the team slipped to third place, which still qualified it for prizes. The team earned $500 for a third place finish in the country, and picked up another $500 for taking first place in the Midwest.
Dombrowski explained a first-place finish would have netted the team $4,000 to spend on supplies for the growing number of participants. He said he occasionally receives free items from tournament sponsors and adds them to the growing pile of prizes for the students he works with.
The Colfax coach has found an unexpected benefit in working with the students on the team.
“You see their behavior in school, but you develop a different relationship with them when you see them outside of school,” Dombrowski said. “You’re in their environment then.”
He explained a relationship of equality, where the kids he works with work to plan who will bring food, who is in charge of bringing and setting up shacks, who has augers to use, and who has access to a fish-finder or sonar to assist in finding the fish once on the lake.
“We fish in style while we’re out there,” Dombrowski stated. “We have warm meals, plenty of soda and water, and chips.”
Dombrowski also said he is enjoying being around the students at the school on the lake, and was looking forward to this last weekend’s National Guard tournament on Chequamegon Bay in Ashland. He said it will be exciting to watch the team fish for species they do not usually see.
Fish like brown trout, splake, and whitefish will likely be in plentiful supply.
The Colfax team is looking forward to fishing a few more tournaments before heading to Birchwood for the state tournament. Dombrowski and team members have done a great deal of fundraising for the trips they take, and the coach said he usually only asks students to contribute $10 toward lodging costs and help provide food and other items for the team’s use.
Colfax’s team will go to Webster on January 28, and Dombrowski said he had not determined what other tournaments the team would go to prior to state. He is hoping to improve on last year’s success.
For now, though, Dombrowski is able to spend time getting to know his students in a different environment while they all learn new things together.
“When we get out there, I very much specialize in making it a team,” Dombrowski said. “It’s a lot of fun.”