If you have lived in Chattanooga more than a year or two, you have probably heard of the Santa Train. A huge caravan of volunteers, led largely by Chattanooga firefighters, hits the streets of Chattanooga on Christmas Eve, distributing toys, clothes and other gifts to deserving families. It is the Charles Dickens "Christmas Carol" come to life—guaranteed to reform the Scrooge in all of us.
However, the Santa Train doesn't just "happen." It is a year-round effort by thousands of volunteers. Many of those are fishermen. Several of those anglers have organized a Nov. 23 crappie fishing tournament to raise money for the Forgotten Child Fund's Santa Train.
"I do it to put smiles on the kids' faces Christmas morning," said tournament Director Dave Ohms, who has volunteered for the effort for nine years.
Organizer Jim Edmister admits he loves to fish but said this event "is truly all about the kids. The service to others is very rewarding to me, personally."
If you don't want to fish, there are other ways to volunteer. For example, there are designated "Crappie Chics" on the tournament committee.
"As a child, I had such wonderful memories of Christmas, and I thought every child had the same experience," Amanda Cronan said. "It wasn't until I became older that I learned the harsh truth that not every child wakes up on Christmas morning to a tree full of toys. So it is with a heavy heart that I became involved in the Forgotten Child Fund. I feel very blessed that I am in a position to help other people. The best Christmas present that I will receive this year is to know I made a child smile."
Carleen McBurnett added: "I've heard so many stories from others who have volunteered with the Santa Train, telling how many kids in our community have little to nothing. I wanted to help, to start to volunteer my time and provide a new toy at the Forgotten Child crappie tournament."
Organizers admit that late November is not the optimum time for a fishing tournament, but Edmister said, "Good folks will come, regardless of hunting season or the weather. Anglers in general are a giving lot. They'll put their shoulder to the wheel when needed."
The entry fee is $25 per boat (two anglers max), PLUS one new toy from each angler. All entry fees will be paid back to the top three boats (50 percent for first, 30 percent for second, 20 percent for third). There will also be an optional big fish pot.
Anglers can preregister Nov. 22 from 4-7 p.m. at Hamilton's Bait Shop on Highway 58 or just show up at 6 a.m. the morning of the Nov. 23 tournament at the Harrison Bay State Park Launching Ramp parking lot. The Forgotten Child Fund will provide hot dogs, hamburgers and soft drinks immediately after the weigh-in.
Of course, donations will be accepted whether you fish or not. Call Ohms for more information at 423-645-9728.
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.
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