Special needs children fish at Oak Mtn. State Park

Published 9:18 pm Monday, May 18, 2009

Watching more than 700 children reel in catfish last weekend at Oak Mountain State Park made Doug Darr remember what it was like to be in their shoes.

“It’s a pure joy that the kids are there to have fun. It helps you relive when you caught your first fish and the excitement you had back then,” said Darr, Alabama’s aquatic education coordinator. “You can’t beat that, acting like a kid and the joy of catching your first fish all over again.”

Darr‘s joy comes from helping special needs kids from Jefferson and Shelby counties learn to fish at the 16th annual Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’ event May 13-15 at Oak Mountain. More than 210 students from Shelby County schools and more than 500 from Jefferson County schools took part in the fishing event.

“This is a really awesome event for our kids,” said Lela Harris, counselor at the Linda Nolen Learning Center in Alabaster. “They make sure every kid catches a fish and they catch a photo with them. It means a lot to them to be able to get out of school for a day to fish.”

Harris has been attending the event for the 11 years she has worked at LNLC and the only complaints she’s heard from kids is that they’ve had to go out in the rain a few times to fish. But when rain threatened cancellation this year, kids were excited to learn that they were still going to the park’s pier despite some May showers.

“It doesn’t matter, rain, shine, sleet or snow, it’s a special day for these students,” Harris said.

It’s also a special event for Harris and others who work with special needs students.

“It’s really special to our heart. We could work at other schools, but we work here because we love our students,” Harris said. “This is one way we get to show them we love them and do something special.”

Harris and Darr both said the event could not take place with out its sponsors: Alabama Power, Alabama Gas Company, Consolidated Pipe & Supply and El Paso Southern Natural Gas. Each company’s employees volunteer to fish with the students.

“Those volunteers are the key to what’s going on” Darr said. “We want each student has someone to teach them. Some of those kids are better anglers than I am at catching catfish, while some need help casting and reeling in.”

Darr said park visitors can benefit from the event, as the state stocked the Oak Mountain State Park lake with more fish than they ever have before prior to the event. Darr said there should be plenty of catfish remaining to be caught.