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    Memphis principal shows care with rod and reel

    Jane Roberts - The Commercial Appeal -

    Principal Jim Long is the primary disciplinarian at Ridgeway High, and as a result, plenty of kids cut him a wide berth.

    But kids threading chicken livers and worms on hooks Friday at Catch 'em Lakes at the Agricenter saw him in jeans and a T-shirt. If the plan works, they'll also see him as someone they can go to when life is confusing.

    "The purpose is to build relationships. What everyone in high school remembers is the coach or the teacher they really liked," Long said. "We're trying to make sure everyone is connected."

    To improve the odds this year, every teacher at Ridgeway is sponsoring a club. Naturally, Long is advising its first-ever fishing club.

    On a gloomy first day of fall break, Long was overseeing the club's first outing, yukking it up in tennis shoes and a cap while Ridgeway soccer and golf coach Stephen Obringer offered advice and English teacher Bill Dunaway — in overalls — pontificated about lunar cycles and gravity.

    "The best times for catching fish will be between 10:17 and 12:17 when the moon is straight below our feet in China," he said to a chorus of laughs.

    Across the lake, Maurice Graham was pulling in his second catfish to great acclaim on a technique he called "sit and wait." Next to him, class president Quadarrius Toney was nonchalantly fishing two poles, "doubling the chances." Myiah Johnson, the No. 2 100-yard hurdler in the state, was enjoying some breezy, low-adrenaline free time, the gritty worm she could pick up (but not make suffer on a hook) a wild contrast to her lime-green fingernails.

    "A lot of kids think teachers don't care. But Mr. Long and the others are out here on their day off helping us. It's a great feeling," she said.

    The Ridgeway fishing club meets the third Wednesday of the month. In the first session, Long and Dunaway demonstrated the "clinch knot" for tying hooks. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency staff members are booked for conservation lectures. Future events include a trip to Herb Parsons Lake in Fayette County and Glenn Springs in Tipton County.

    "Depending a lot on what external help we can get, we'd like to take them on boat trip on a lake," Long said.

    Just then, Jazmine Houston brought in her prize, a catfish still on the hook.

    "Will you take it out? I don't want to be a murderer," she said.

    "You won't be a murderer; that fish was meant for my plate," said Long, a burly, former Razerback, rummaging for a clipper to cut the hook.

    While some kids had their own rods and reels, the rest were covered by Bass Pro Shops and a listener who heard Long's tackle pitch on The Chris Vernon Show. Another anonymous person covered bus transportation, bait, the $6 per-person admission cost and the $2 per-pound caught catfish fee.

    Saturday, Long will be talking up the benefits on "Outdoors with Larry Rea" on Sports 790 AM.

    "We don't have any data, of course," Long says. "But when kids are frustrated, we want them to have someone else in the building they can go talk to; someone who is not assessing them for a grade or their conduct. That's what we're aiming for."