August 21, 2017 10:45:32 AM
Phil Atkins couldn't have been prouder.
Seeing your son accomplish a first is one thing, but watching him handle the moment with the class and dignity of a sportsman is another.
That's why it was easy to hear the pride in Phil's voice when he talked in the days following his son Justin's victory in the Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) Forrest Wood Cup last week at Lake Murray in Columbia, South Carolina. While he enjoyed Justin's 15-fish total of 59-4 for the three days and his $300,000 prize for winning the event, Phil will remember how his son reacted to the news he had just won the event.
"When they had weighed in all but him and his roommate Brandon (Cobb) I knew Justin had won the tournament," Phil said. "I knew his roommate had only four fish. I was concerned. My biggest concern was how was he going to handle the moment -- the biggest moment he had spent all of his life to get to. ... I was prouder of the way he handled the moment of winning the tournament because I wanted to see if he could handle it, and I thought he handled it as well as he could."
Phil said Justin didn't scream and yell. Instead, he said Justin turned to Cobb and hugged him and said something in his ear before he walked around and held the trophy over his head. He said watching his son treat Cobb with respect was a bigger moment for him because it showed him his son had learned the lessons he and his wife, Lynn, taught him growing up in Columbus.
"That other individual there, he has everything on the line and he is disappointed he didn't win," Phil said. "I think you owe him as a competitor the acknowledgment he deserved instead of fist pumping and jumping up and leaving him dejected. He acknowledged him as a competitor and as a fisherman."
As a father of a 10-year-old son, Phil's comment struck a nerve with me because as parents we never know if our kids are really listening to us. We can harp on our children about table manners, looking people in the eye when they talk to them, treating people with respect, and working hard at everything they do, but it is hard to discern if our children appreciate those words. We can only hope that by trying to do our best they will learn a few things along the way and follow the example we try to set.
Phil and Lynn should be proud. They couldn't have imagined that when Justin asked for a bait-casting reel of his own that he would decide not to walk in his graduation at New Hope High School. For some, that might have been a non-starter. But Phil recognized how much his son loved fishing. He also knew it was something Justin was passionate about because he saw the time, effort, and dedication he spent to getting better at it. Phil knew Justin wasn't fishing to escape doing chores or studies. It was something that clicked with him and that he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
Seeing Justin come home every day and use that bait-casting reel at a gravel pond near their home in New Hope proved that to Phil. It didn't take long for Justin to become a fishing companion he knew he could team with to be competitive on Team Trail events on the Columbus pool at the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. One day Phil said he talked with his wife about Justin's passion for fishing. He told her he believed it was good for Justin to have something he could be good at because it would help him relate to his friends and his peers.
Again, it didn't take long for Justin's friends to discover they had a "fisherman" in their midst, someone they could go to ask questions and who could help them when they had a problem. Justin's skill helped his confidence and gained him a sense of accomplishment at an early age, even if he wasn't winning paychecks.
Years later, standing on stage as a FLW tournament winner, Phil Atkins had no problem recognizing his son as a champion. After watching Justin grow up with championship dreams, it was only natural for him to reward his father by acting like a champion in front of the whole fishing world.
"That victory will help turn a bumpy, gravel road into a paved road," Phil said. "He just has to keep it between the ditches and everything else work out fine."
Seeing Justin Atkins' reaction to his first tournament victory is something any father can take pride in.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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