The 80th Texas International Fishing Tournament is now in the books. This annual event is much more than going after shallow or deep-water fish. In fact, it’s a family event in which everyone from toddlers to grandparents in their 90s get together for a weekend of fun.
TIFT gives out tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships to students from throughout the Rio Grande Valley and the state as well. This year, for example, the organization chose 21 students with each receiving $2,000 in scholarships. Hundreds of others have received similar scholarships since TIFT began the program in 1994.
Kristi Collier, the tournament director, said TIFT has given out $460,000 in scholarships in the last 25 years. A scholarship committee chooses the students based on a combination of working as a volunteer during a tournament and academics. Collier said an applicant must volunteer a minimum of three years. Their work constitutes 70 percent, while 30 percent comes from school performance. For scholarship consideration, an applicant can be a freshman in college or a high school senior.
With each year, scores of volunteers work around the docks at TIFT, each wearing their volunteer t-shirts. Their duties include meeting incoming fishing boats, picking up the fish caught by anglers, and transporting the catches to a measuring and weigh-in table. They also hang some of the fish from a large hook. Here, fishermen and fisherwomen take their pictures as spectators look on with amazement.
Calton Dorsett said he came all the way from Nacogdoches to work as a volunteer at this year’s tournament. He said he came down because a friend told about it. He plans to look into applying for a scholarship in the near future.
McAllen resident Alexander Escobar said he wants to get experience as a deckhand while volunteering his time. When told about TIFT giving scholarships, he said he is going to check it out.
The scholarship program is only one of TIFT’s success stories. The organization gets support from hundreds of supporters, sponsors and others in addition to the fees anglers pay to enter the contest.
As one of Texas oldest and largest fishing tournaments, TIFT also plays a big role in the economy of the South Padre Island/Port Isabel area. According to a study from the University of the Rio Grande Valley-Business & Tourism Research Center, TIFT resulted in an economic infusion of $484,734 in 2018. The figure reflects spending on food and beverages, lodging, admission fees, retail, transportation, parking, groceries and other expenses.