Volunteers live at Bassmasters site to keep event running
Last updated 5/30/2023 at 7:09pm
Orange County has an elite group that gets to stay at the big fishing tournament and river festival all weekend long. All they have to do to reach the status is work as a volunteer 20 hours a day for at least four days, plus dozens of more hours during the week.
They set up what is now called "Camp Bass," which is a group of six or seven RVs that the volunteers bring so they can spend the night at the Boat Ramp and Riverside Park for the four-day long Bassmasters Elite tournament.
This year will be the fifth time Orange County has hosted the national professional tournament, and through the years, the local volunteers keep improving their methods of handling crowds. The tournament and Sabine River Festival two years ago drew 40,000 people.
Volunteer Steve Jones said local business owner David Jones dubbed the group of RVs as "Camp Bass."
"I don't get to bed until 1 a.m. and then I have to get up at 4 a.m.," he said. "It just makes sense to stay here."
Jones is a retired Orange Police Department major. The Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce, which helps sponsor and organize the four-day event, asked him in 2013 to help with the first tournament. He used his police knowledge to help organize parking and traffic patterns for the tournament.
For Jones, it's a family affair. His wife, Kay, along with their grown daughter and teenage granddaughter also volunteer during the week, though Kay said she goes home at night to sleep.
Others who will camp there include Jones, whose Gopher Industrial is sponsoring two concerts and the kids fish tank, was in the original group to stay. Others include Chamber President Ida Schossow, her late husband, Tim, and County Judge John Gothia.
Gothia was still working in the private sector when Orange County held its first Bassmasters. He and Schossow were instrumental in getting the professional organization here.
Jones on Tuesday morning was with his family riding through the grounds in a golf car. He was waiting for the tent company to deliver and set up the needed tents for the tournament and festival. Also, portable toilets were scheduled to be delivered.
"We've got this down to a well-oiled machine," he said.
For the core volunteers, sleeping on the grounds is the only way they can grab a couple of hours of shut-eye. Jones said by time the nightly concert ends and the band packs up, then the trash is gathered, it's 1 in the morning.
The volunteers get up at 4 a.m. to be able to assist and direct the more than 100 professional anglers who will be launching and then taking off in the water at 6 a.m. Jones said 90 fishing marshals will be accompanying the anglers in their boats. The marshal, who ride with the anglers to assure rules are followed, need to be directed to their parking area. Then volunteers drive them to the launch ramps in golf cars or ATVs. The vehicles are loaned by individuals for the event.
Jones praised the city of Orange for helping develop the Boat Ramp area to accommodate more activities. The city built a covered pavilion with stage area and back loading area at the site for the bands to play, even in the rain. The covered Riverside Pavilion also has a concrete floor for audiences to place their lawn chairs.
In addition, the city built air-conditioned bathrooms, and Camp Bass is set up nearby. Even though the bathrooms are close, the volunteers in the camp shower in the RVs. Though those bathrooms are open to the public, Jones said the crowds are so large that portable toilet stalls are needed to be set up around the grounds.
The city also took down the fences at the old Simmons Field Park across Simmons Drive from the Boat Ramp to make more room for parking nearby.
Tuesday morning, volunteers Butch Campbell, John Semien, and Russell Bottley were already there helping where they could. Jones said Bottley, who is a West Orange-Stark High athletic coach whose duties include coaching the schools bass fishing team, works at the tournament before dawn, then will go to the school to open the weight room for students, and then go back to the tournament.
Volunteers are needed to help with many aspects of the local tournament and festival. People interested in volunteering may contact the chamber of commerce or go to the Boat Ramp grounds before Thursday. Not everyone is expected to put in a 20-hour day, but a few hours on one day will help.