WILLOW LAKE, S.D. — Zach Zenner, former SDSU standout and current running back for the Detroit Lions, explained that if you want to do something well, it’s going to take a commitment.
Whether it’s football or fishing, you have to dedicate the time and effort to see the results, he said on Saturday at Dry Lake No. 2, near the town of Willow Lake. And the two sports aren’t so different, he said.
“If you really wanted to catch fish and be a professional fisherman, you would need to do a lot of preparation and scout the lakes—get to know the lake, where the fish are, that sort of thing—and I think you can say the same thing about football,” Zenner said. “You’ve got to scout the defense and know what their tendencies are and find a way to beat them, or with fish, find a way to catch them.”
Zenner and teammate Riley Reiff, an offensive tackle for the Lions and a Parkston native, were in South Dakota to help host the first Celebrity Walleye Classic along with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire. Zenner entered the competition with his dad, uncle and brother.
Twenty-one teams with two to four fishermen per team signed up for the event, totaling nearly 100 participants for the day. The numbers on the ice increased when three boys from the Boys and Girls Club showed up later in the day for their very first ice fishing experience—fishing with NFL football players nonetheless.
But fishing wasn’t the only thing Zenner spent the day practicing; it was charity and giving back to the community that he and Reiff were really accomplishing.
The Boys and Girls Club is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization that provides mentoring, tutoring and other activities for children from infant to 18 years old. Rebecca Wimmer, CEO for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire, said the goal is to prepare kids for the next stage in life and to connect them with caring adults. Role models such as Zenner and Reiff, she explained, are the perfect fit for their program.
Reiff has previously been connected with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire, and when Zenner joined the Detroit Lions this past season, Wimmer jumped at the chance to have both players back in South Dakota for an event.
“They’re well-known in South Dakota … and both of them are very passionate about kids and the mission that we have at Boys and Girls Club, so it fits very well with them, and they are both outdoors people,” Wimmer said.
The players agreed that they were excited to participate in the fishing tournament, which is different from the charity events they usually engage in, such as golf outings, bowling or visiting schools to talk to kids and help with camps.
“I’m excited, it’s something different,” Reiff said. “A lot of people respond to this around South Dakota, and it’s just great to have the turnout that we do.”
The boys had the opportunity for autographs and photos with the players, as well as attending the evening awards ceremony and celebrity after party. Prizes were awarded to the top 10 teams, including for biggest walleye and for overall weight of eight total fish (three walleye and five perch). Door prizes and donated sponsor items were also given away.
According to Lisa Verdin, marketing director for the Boys and Girls Club, the money raised goes toward the club’s general fund to put on programs and serve more kids. Verdin said the membership cost that each child pays for the year is only $25, but the operating cost to serve each one is roughly $1,500 per child.
“The rest of the money comes from events like this, donations and also grants,” Verdin said, adding that the group is starting their annual campaign, as well.
A second installment of the Celebrity Walleye Classic will be held on July 16 at Dry Lake No. 2. with Zenner and Reiff planning to return.
“You don’t have to bundle up quite as much and can get a little sun,” Zenner joked. “So I think as far as temperature, that’s a little more fun.”