Anyone who qualifies for national competition in any sport deserves the utmost respect. Always.

Young or old, male or female, the feat deserves extra attention. It’s good to see hundreds of people feel that way after Hunter Neuville, a high school senior from Loreauville, defied the odds of fishing from the back of the boat three straight days in unforgivingly cold weather conditions and an almost non-existent bite 13 hours from home to earn a berth as a co-angler in the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship.

The 18-year-old student/athlete at Highland Baptist Christian School was supposed to be surprised when he attended class Monday, three days after he stood triumphantly on the stage of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Central Regional tournament at Milford Lake near Junction City, Kansas. HBCS officials got the word out and urged students to wear jeans and fishing shirts to class to salute one of their own. Heck, one of our own.

“Oh, a bunch of people were telling me, ‘Congratulations!’ They had fishing shirts. I knew about it. The secret got out,” Hunter said Tuesday evening.

His first hint of newfound notoriety came early Saturday, after Hunter and Travis Kelehan drove straight through Friday night from Kansas to Toledo Bend, where Kelehan, formerly of Broussard, lives, and Neuville drove the rest of the way alone in his own vehicle to Loreauville.

The HBCS Bears baseball team contacted Hunter’s parents, Tony and Donna Neuville, to invite Hunter to its home game Saturday afternoon. The Bears wanted to honor Neuville along with the baseball team’s seniors.

Hunter also threw out the ceremonial first pitch. After that appearance he relaxed and, yes, went fishing on local waters the next day.

He truly and humbly appreciates the outpouring of support, before, during and after Milford Lake.

By the hardest and calling up every smidgen of bass fishing expertise, Hunter stunned the Milford Lake crowd April 23 by winning the Non-Boater Division with a three-day total of four bass for 9 pounds, 10 ounces, just 2 ounces more than co-angler Ray Cates of Team Missouri. His two bass the first day and one each the next two days were all smallmouths, which he never targeted before. And all after an unseasonably late snowstorm — even for the Midwest — blanketed the region overnight April 19.

How tough was the tournament? Eighty-nine of 160 anglers and co-anglers zeroed on Day 1 and 116 didn’t weigh a fish on Day 2. Nineteen of 40 who fished the third and final day also scratched.

Hunter earned a berth to the hallowed B.A.S.S. Nation Championship scheduled for Nov. 3-5 at Ouachita River in his home state of Louisiana.

Donna, his mother, wrote in a text, “We are very proud, watching him grow through the years and seeing him focus on fishing. … He never let up and kept pushing so we always found a way. It brings tears of joy to my eyes to see how happy he is at doing what he loves to do — fish! His great-grandfather, J.O. (Neuville), who fished daily, I know he’s proud.”

She said they are planning to go to Monroe for nationals the first week of November and so are relatives from Colorado.

“We are so excited,” Donna said.

Hunter, who started the HBCS Fishing Team, is taking success from the past few years in stride. It takes a lot to get the young man to show emotion but, yes, that was a proud, beaming grin he flashed holding the regional title-winning “smallie” up for all to see a week ago Friday.

Ouachita Lake, site of nationals, is on the backburner.

“I haven’t even looked at it yet. Next weekend I have a (Louisiana High School B.A.S.S. Nation) state tournament out of Doiron’s Landing. The Basin’s supposed to be dropping under 14 feet to 13-something. I’m going to be in the Basin for that one, no doubt, especially with the water that low. If I find some fish it ought to be good. I don’t think I’ll have any problem catching fish. If I don’t catch this weekend, I know the water will be even lower next weekend,” he said.

He’s also got Wednesday Night Hawg Fight Bass Tournament Series and Franklin-based Louisiana Bass Anglers tournaments to fish and hone his game, plus another major tournament in September at the Red River. He won’t be resting on his laurels, that’s for sure.

DON SHOOPMAN is outdoors editor of The Daily Iberian.

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