Bass Cats fishing team returns to campus after Gulf Coast recovery efforts

Tired but content, members of Western Carolina University’s fishing club team returned to campus Saturday, Sept. 2, after 48 hours in Texas and Louisiana assisting Hurricane Harvey victims.

“It feels good to sleep in a bed,” said Colby Shope, a Bass Cats member, upon returning to Cullowhee. “It was a hectic situation and we were largely self-directed, but people were grateful and supportive ― a Holiday Inn near Lake Charles let us shower for free ― and we were able to accomplish a lot in our time there.

“We didn’t do it for media attention or anything like that. We fish, so we know our way around water and have boats. It was an easy decision. It was natural to want to help when we had the ways and means to help.”

Colby Shope with a cat he rescued from storm waters.

The 10 team members, equipped with four pickup trucks and four boats, were involved in the rescue of 41 people, 10 cows and one cat. They were able to aid Texas and Louisiana authorities in checking homes for occupants, alive or dead, as well as provide support for local emergency medical services, sheriffs’ agencies and fire departments and other volunteers.

“I would do it again tomorrow,” said Jason Ashe, a nontraditional student with a law enforcement and military background who helped organize the rescue and relief mission. “I’m glad we could throw it together as quickly as we did and actually help some people who really needed it. I hope we were able to create awareness on campus that will aid the victims of Harvey in the weeks and months to come.”

Bass Cats’ faculty adviser Nate Kreuter, director of WCU’s Writing, Rhetoric and Critical Studies Program, stayed in touch with the volunteers throughout their trip. “My first reaction was to make sure that we were accounting for these students’ safety and ensure that they would not add to the burden of first responders in the disaster zone,” Kreuter said. “I have a lot of confidence in these students and, once we talked through the big issues, I really wasn’t worried about them. At that point, I was just proud – proud of their sense of duty and of their initiative. As an adviser, it is not my role to make decisions for the club, but simply to discourage or prevent bad decisions, and then to, within reason and my own authority, support them within our university.”

Many neighborhoods were accessible only by boat.

Even before the Bass Cats had returned home, WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher’s office had received a call from a grateful Orange, Texas, resident who cried as she explained that she was very proud of the WCU students and blessed by their willingness to help in a time of need. “She did not want a response and said who she was did not matter, she just wanted us to know,” said Julie Mathis, an administrative aide who took the call.

The members who assisted relief and rescue efforts and their hometowns are: Jason Ashe, Sylva; Clint Bartlett, Mint Hill; Jacob Boyd, Canton; Jack Crumpton, Blanch; Will Crumpton, Blanch; Austin Garren, Fletcher; Parker Jessup, Charlotte; Colby Shope, Canton; Zach Tallent, Franklin; and Tyler Watts, Mount Airy, Georgia.

As Hurricane Irma headed toward the Florida peninsula, team members turned their thoughts to the possibility of another round of displaced storm victims, but said they are now focused on catching up on classwork. “Anytime there’s a disaster, there’s a need,” Shope said. “There will always be opportunities to help and I just hope we set an example.”

For more information on how to help the Bass Cats with their relief efforts, visit their Facebook page.