CastingKids crowned

Ron Harness (center) of CITGO, crowns Shauni Voisin of Canada (left) and Chucky Culley of North Carolina (right) the 2004 Castingkids Champions at the Bassmaster Classic in Charlotte, N.C. 

CHARLOTTE — The spectators of this sports crazed town who came to watch the finals of the 2004 Bassmaster CastingKids presented by CITGO were all too familiar with the potential outcome. After all, most had endured their Carolina Panthers' nail-biting loss to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. This time, they were pulling for one of their own, a 12-year-old kid from Hiddenite, N.C., who was in a double-overtime castoff with his competition from Ohio.

The standoff ended when native son Chucky Culley broke the tiebreaker to win the 11-14 age division at the CastingKids championship held concurrently with the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer.

"It was so intense," Culley said after collecting his plaque and a $5,000 college scholarship in front of the partisan crowd gathered inside the Charlotte Coliseum for the event. Culley outlasted runner-up Darrell Hague, 13, and three others from his division in an annual program that narrows a field of more than one thousand to the top five finalists from two age groups.

In the 7-10 age division, 9-year-old Shauni Voisin of Teeswater, Ontario, took the title home to Canada after outscoring Hope Newkirk, 10, of Georgia. "It was really a cool thing," said the winner, who plans to use her $5,000 scholarship to become a veterinarian.

Other finalists from the 7-10 division included Josh Abernathy, 10, of Oregon, who finished third; Chase LaFlamme, 9, of Maine, fourth; and Adam Eubanks, 10, of Mississippi, fifth.

From the 11-14 age division, finalists included Briana Babauta, 13, of California, third; Chris Smreker, 14, of Kansas, fourth; and Cole Paradise, 14, of New York, fifth.

Since its beginning in 1991, CastingKids has reached more than 1.4 million children and given away some $2.7 million in cash, prizes and scholarships. Winners from the program's early years are now enrolled in college and have used their scholarships, while others have graduated with degrees. Some have joined BASS Federation Junior Chapters and some have qualified for divisional championships.

In a recent CastingKids milestone, Colorado's Tyler Swaney, now 20 years old, will be the first former CastingKids participant to make it to the CITGO BASS Federation Championship.