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Fish program does a bite of good for hundreds of kids

Counselor BiancFrustaci leads 15 kids from Louis L. Valentine Boys   Girls Club an innovative fishing lessFriday Palmisano Park.

Counselor Bianca Frustaci leads 15 kids from the Louis L. Valentine Boys & Girls Club to an innovative fishing lesson Friday at Palmisano Park. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:30AM

Bianca Frustaci led 15 kids down the ramp to the lagoon in the old quarry Friday at Palmisano Park. They were eager — straining but orderly — to be by Frustaci’s side.

The kids from the Louis L. Valentine Boys & Girls Club had reason to smile: They were going fishing. A great seed of a fishing program was planted this summer by the not-for-profit Henry Palmisano Fishing Foundation.

For me, Friday began with the surrealism of tooling around Bridgeport in the Fishmobile. Bob Sadowski was behind the wheel, and more than a dozen rods were sticking up in the air behind our seats on our way to the lagoon.

Palmisano Park is a deliciously ironic park. The former Stearns Quarry, the epicenter of illegal dumping and the Hired Truck scandal, has been transformed into the model urban nature park.

Sadowski drove us down the ramp to the fishing pier, where his other volunteers — Tom Grose, Ken ‘‘The Lakefront Lip’’ Schneider, Terry Meade and Tom Palmisano (Danny Edwards wasn’t there Friday) — gathered.

With more than 100 years of teaching kids fishing among them, they know basics begin with light tackle, small hooks and spikes for bait to catch bluegills. Here, it is mostly hybrid bluegills and a few green sunfish.

‘‘I want kids to be in the park fishing,’’ said Grose, explaining why he volunteered. ‘‘Inner-city kids don’t get into the parks enough.’’

The kids gathered around as Sadowski laid the ground rules: Stay a foot from the edge, so the young angler doesn’t end up in the drink when the excitement of catching a fish comes. And no casting, so no one gets hooked.

Sadowski asked what Illinois’ state fish is. Daizee Brutus was the first to answer bluegill. She also was the first to land a hybrid bluegill when the group dispersed to the fishing rods.

‘‘Sometimes I know what they want,’’ said Brutus, who caught her first fish this summer.

Ocean Reed, 10, landed good fish nearby.

‘‘It is relaxing,’’ Reed said with wisdom beyond her years. ‘‘It is fun when you get one, exciting, and you feel proud of yourself when you get a fish.’’

Rachel Cavazos caught three on three casts and busted a smile that could remake the world.

‘‘The ladies rule because they listen,’’ said Sadowski, echoing the thoughts of anybody who has coached either-gender sports.

Ari Jauregui boosted the pride of the guys by catching perhaps the biggest fish.

‘‘I was so excited [about the fishing program],’’ club director Erin Rochford said. ‘‘It was something new, and a lot of our kids had never fished before. It actually increased participation in our day programs.’’

Rochford noted how families started fishing the lagoon after the children went through the program.

Sadowkski’s son Jeff, the vice president of operations for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, saw an ‘‘intergenerational pastime offering a ripple effect.’’

‘‘I envision it going to all our sites,’’ he said. ‘‘Let’s have this program grow. The sky’s the limit.’’

Jeff Sadowski said he wants to reach the 10,000 kids served by 16 Boys & Girls Club sites in Chicago.

Bob Sadowski said they did two days a week of the fishing lessons — five days were lost to weather — and put some 700 kids from the Boys & Girls Club and CAPS through the program.

As the sun rose, fishing slowed. It was time. Instructors sensed the end.

Theresa Donnelly, the aquatics director for the Boys & Girls Club who was there as lifeguard, is a veteran coach. She corraled the crew by the Fishmobile for a group photo.

That done, they clumped around the famous — or infamous — singing bass on the front of the Fishmobile.

‘‘We promise them a good time and promise they will catch a fish,’’ Sadowski said.


Places and faces

Bill Byrns, the outdoors editor/writer for the Kankakee Daily Journal, died of an apparent heart attack early Sunday. .  .  . Joel and Jamie Kuna of Roselle won the guardian/youth division of the 26th annual National Championship Musky Open last weekend in Eagle River, Wis., with muskies of 34, 34 and 37 inches.

Wild things

Lure painter Mike Skwira remarked on the nighthawk he spotted Friday in the southwest suburbs. A flood of reports on IBET, the birders network, followed shortly. .  .  . I found my first hedge apple Monday. .  .  . Norm Minas said hickory nuts are falling.

Stray cast

The Sox remind me of the old dam at Aroma Park. The Cubs remind me of the back channel of Goose Island.

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