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Hartford bass team skips trip

  • From left, boat captain Vyon Boyer joins Hartford's Gordon Willey and Alixzander Speckert-Ring along with coach Aron Tomlinson, rear right, at the Twin State Invitational bass fishing tournament in Hinsdale, N.H., last October. Hartford won the event to qualify for a national tournament in Wisconsin next month; the Hurricanes recently canceled the trip over coronavirus concerns.

  • Hartford High's Alixzander Speckert-Ring, left, and Gordon Willey, right, at the championship board for the Twin State Invitational bass fishing tournament in Hinsdale, N.H., last October. The Hartford duo earned an invitation to a national tournament in Wisconsin with their Twin State victory. The team recently canceled the Wisconsin trip because of coronavirus concerns.

  • Hartford High's Will Burns shows off his lunker bass, the largest caught in the tournament, during the Vermont Principals Association state bass fishing tournament on Lake Champlain last September. Burns is part of a three-angler Hartford team that qualified for a national championship event in Wisconsin next month, a trip that was canceled recently over coronavirus concerns.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/14/2020 3:13:23 PM
Modified: 5/14/2020 3:13:11 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Upper Valley high school sports programs have seen scores of state and regional competition opportunities wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now one has lost an event at the national level.

Hartford High School’s nascent bass fishing team was to go to La Crosse, Wis., for The Bass Federation’s high school national championship next month. Given the pandemic situation and various travel difficulties arising from it, Hartford coach Aron Tomlinson last week decided to call off the Hurricanes’ trip.

While disappointing, the move comes with a silver lining. TBF officials will let Hartford — which participated in its first varsity Vermont Principals Association season last fall — join its world high school tournament, held concurrently with nationals, in 2021.

“Some of our accommodations reached out last week; they needed to know if we were coming or not, when we were going to get there, how to get our money back, and they needed to know by (Friday),” Tomlinson explained. “I just don’t feel comfortable right now bringing these young fellas halfway across the country for something that may or may not happen.”

As of now, the TBF’s world finals and national championship combined event remains on for June 23-27 on the Mississippi River.

“I was really, really bummed out,” Hartford sophomore Gordon Willey said. “As hard as we worked to get there, it stinks that we do not get to go. I was really looking forward to it, looking at all the places we could stay there. I did a bunch of research. It looked like fun. What are you going to do?”

The Hurricanes — consisting of Tomlinson, Willey and freshman anglers Alixzander Speckert-Ring and Will Burns — qualified for nationals by winning the Twin State Invitational, on the Connecticut River in Hinsdale, N.H., last October. Earning a Twin State slot with a top-10 finish at the VPA state tournament, Willey and Speckert-Ring combined at Twin States to snag five bass with a combined weight of 14.7 pounds, beating the runner-up by more than 9 pounds.

“In fishing,” Tomlinson noted, “that is a substantial margin.”

Between family, friends and sponsors, the team easily raised the $15,000 it would need to get to Wisconsin. The virus changed everything.

Hartford first lost its boat and captain. The Canes were connected with Yvon Voyer, a Quebec resident and a captain in the Canadian Armoured Corps, when they visited Lake Champlain for the VPA’s two September tournaments, using Voyer’s boat and lake knowledge in competition. Voyer — who later drove to Hinsdale to captain Hartford at Twin States — and Tomlinson were to transport the boat to Wisconsin, but the March 21 closing of the U.S.-Canada border to non-essential traffic ended that plan. According to published reports, it will not reopen until June 21 at the earliest.

Although out of national competition, Hartford’s three-person team is drawing attention. The school will put up a banner in its gymnasium recognizing the squad’s accomplishment. Tomlinson said he’s also seen a surge in interest and expects to field a larger roster this fall. The money raised for the nixed Wisconsin trip is being saved for next year’s worlds, scheduled for South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell, near Greenville.

The TBF has scheduled a Vermont state championship tournament for Lake Champlain in July. Add next fall’s Twin State event, and that’s two more chances for Tomlinson to qualify more Hurricanes to cast with the big fish.

“I’m just going out as much as I can, getting as much time on the water as I can,” said Willey, who also plays hockey and lacrosse at Hartford. “Anything on the water will make you better.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at or 603-727-3226.

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