CHESHIRE -- One of the few remaining weekends to get out on the ice was turned into a shot in the arm for a good cause Sunday, as the first ROPES Ice Fishing Derby was held to benefit the summer program of the same name.
James Tworig, a Cheshire resident who runs JCB Bait Shop from his home on Depot Street, pitched the new event in light of the town's biggest derby, held in honor of the late Josh Snyder, being canceled this year.
"We saw an opening there and thought we'd do a fundraiser," Tworig said. "I always said if I was going to do a fundraiser, it'd be for ROPES."
The Northern Berkshire Youth ROPES (Respecting Other People Encouraging Self-Esteem) summer program draws an average of 250 area youths each year. It constitutes a week of teamwork, challenges and fun for local fifth- and sixth-graders at Windsor Lake's high and low ropes courses, free of cost to parents. The program began in 1996 and is run by local police, fire and emergency personnel.
At the end of the day Tworig had $700 to hand Lt. David Sacco of the North Adams Police Department.
"This is a perfect example of someone from the community taking the initiative," Sacco said. "... I told [Tworig] what I know about ice fishing would fit in one of the holes they drill, but the money won't be there [for ROPES] unless things like this continue to happen."
With state grants becoming more scarce in recent years, similar camps in Berkshire County have seen
"We just have a group of dedicated people that don't want to see it stop," Sacco said.
Wilco's Solid Sound Festival in North Adams has also become a boon for ROPES, as volunteers run a concession stand there to benefit the program.
Justyn Tworig's 13.2-pound, 37-inch pike won the day Sunday; Kyle Racine reeled in the biggest bass at just over four pounds, 20 inches long; and Jim Witto was close behind him with a 3.3-pound, 18-inch bass.
In the youth category, Austin Oleskiewicz, who traveled all the way from Belchertown with his father to attend, and Jacob Sicard came out winners, each catching bass more than a foot long and weighing roughly two pounds.
Many of Sunday's fishers were graduates of the ROPES program.
"It teaches you how to get along with people and trust them," Connor Tworig, 18, said.
Added Sacco, "If we can judge the success of the program by the amount of mentors [who've been through the program] coming back to volunteer, then we're doing all right."
In putting together the derby, James Tworig partnered with Bass Water Grill owner Ed Bassi, who donated food and space in his restaurant, and John Haskins of Beck's Printing in North Adams, who printed promotional signs.
Tworig said he aims to make the derby bigger next year.
"This place [the Bass Water Grill] will be packed next time around," Tworig said. "[Owner Ed Bassi] is game and I'm game."
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