Saturday, May 12, 2007

Visually impaired kids experience fishing!

Yesterday was William Mitchell's first experience fishing, although he never did see the rod in his hands, the morning's overcast sky, or even the trout pond.

William, 6, a kindergartner at Wynn Elementary School in Oregon, is completely blind from a genetic condition.

Yet he certainly didn't miss the hard, deep tug on his fishing line, or the ensuing commotion of splashes.

William was bursting with excitement and anxious frenzy as he and his father, Ted Mitchell, worked together to reel in the rainbow trout as fast as they could.

Standing with them on shore was a supporting cast of Merickel-Farley Trout Club and Maumee Lions Club members.

"Oh boy, look at that!" yelled club member John Sebian as William and his dad pulled the squirming trout from the water. "He's a big one."

William was among the half-dozen children with eyesight disabilities who spent their morning along the bank of the Merickel-Farley Trout Club pond in Swanton Township for the third annual Visually Impaired Children's Fishing Adventure.

The event is co-sponsored by the trout and Lions clubs to provide a traditional childhood fishing experience to those whose disabilities might otherwise preclude them.

Richard Veitch, Jr., right, offers William Mitchell a trout. The touch sends the boy, who has been blind since birth, into a fit of giggles. Club members gathered to help the children with everything from baiting their hooks and casting their lines to pulling the fish to shore. They later cleaned the trout over picnic benches, and then packed them in ice for the children's families to take home for supper.

"It's all about the kids and to see the smiles on their faces," said Jim Eichner, the trout club's vice president.

But it wasn't all smiles.

Landing fish can be tricky, and from the distressed expression that 9-year-old Alex Schroeder wore as he struggled against a rainbow trout, it was hard to tell just who was pulling who in or out of the water.

"Keep going," urged Alex's dad, Mike Schroeder, as his son's rod bent and strained. "Keep backing him up."

The fish finally hit land, and Alex, who was born with partial vision and lives in West Toledo, tried making out what exactly he had brought to shore.

"He's a biggie," Alex said, still in disbelief. "Is it a real fish?"

Indeed, the pond was stocked yesterday with more than 1,300 live trout, bass, and catfish. They were biting a lot quicker than in past years, when most children waited until noon before they caught the five-trout limit, said Dr. Robert Goulding, an optometrist and chairman of the event for the Lions Club.

Organizers also said that the number of participants has grown, although not as fast as some had hoped, because of the difficulties of locating and notifying all area parents with visually impaired children about the event.

Scott and Stacey Young of West Toledo have taken their daughter, Schyler, to the event every year. The 8-year-old has hearing as well as vision loss.

"The very first year, we were the only ones who came," Ms. Young said.

William's mother, Andrea Mitchell, said that along with the thrill and excitement, the fishing adventure gives her son a chance to make friends with other visually impaired children.
Many school districts in northwest Ohio have only a handful of students with similar visual disabilities.

William attends regular kindergarten classes at Wynn Elementary School in Oregon, where he receives Braille lessons from a visiting tutor, Mary Dodds, who was also watching him fish yesterday.

As a visually impaired child, "there's not a lot of activities for him to do," Mrs. Mitchell said. "I wanted him to get the sensory experience and meet other kids like him."


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