KISSIMMEE, Fla. - The entrances are straight out of professional wrestling. The stage, lights and pyrotechnics would be suitable for a Rolling Stones stadium show. And the emcee? “American Idol’s” Ryan Seacrest should watch his back. If the Citgo Bassmaster Classic is bass fishing’s premier event, its weigh-in ceremony is the sport’s premier spectacle. After each round of competition during the threeday tournament, which will conclude today at Lake Tohopekaliga, anglers head to the Orange County Convention Center to weigh their fish and determine who is leading. BASS, bass fishing’s governing body, and ESPN, which televises portions of the weighins live, have made an event out of plopping fish on a scale. Nearly 10,000 fans were in attendance Saturday. Colorado Springs’ Joe Conway made it to the stage Saturday, but didn’t catch enough fish by weight to make the cut for today’s final round. “The fans love the sport, and they come out to support these guys,” said Keith Alan, who hosts the weigh-ins. On Friday and Saturday, fans crammed into bleachers and packed a standing-roomonly area in front of the stage. They wore bass hats and bass belts, Classic T-shirts and Hawaiian shirts featuring fish instead of palm trees. They cheered — especially when prompted, game-show style. They held signs — most for their favorite anglers, though one simply read, “We Love Bass.” And at every opportunity, they banged together inflatable plastic tubes. No sport, it seems, is immune to “Thunderstix.” Since the event is made for television, huge screens on opposite ends of the stage play highlights, profiles of anglers and, of course, commercials intermittently. Any additional time is killed with live music from a band on stage. The anglers are introduced one at a time, and they ride into the arena in their boats, which are pulled by a sponsor’s pickup trucks. Spotlights and blaring music accompany their arrivals. It’s likely the tournament organizers choose each song, but who knows? Maybe 48-year-old Zell Rowland of Texas, who entered to 1980s anthem “Shout,” is a big Tears for Fears fan. When they reach the front of the arena, the anglers grab the bag containing their catch for that day and walk onto the stage — some with more flair than others. Friday, Ishama Monroe pulled out a less-than-impressive bag of fish from one of his boat’s live wells and began to walk on stage feigning frustration. Then, he stopped, flashed a grin and went back to his boat. He pulled out an additional, large fish, eliciting a roar from the crowd. He started for the stage again, but turned back a second time, pulled out an even bigger fish and held it aloft as the crowd exploded in cheers. As contrived as the event might be, it is huge for many in the audience. Kirk LaPine of Kalamazoo, Mich., brought his son, Ryan, who is an avid fisherman. Aric Pankey came from Wabash, Ark. And Greg Bartz of Palm City, Fla., will be at today’s final weigh-in if he can make it in time from his club fishing tournament. “That’s every bass fisherman’s dream,” Bartz said. “To be up on that stage.”
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