This story appeared in the Pender Neighbors Section of the Wilmington Star-News on May 28, 2008. It received the second place 2008 SEOPA Excellence In Craft award for the Best Weekly Newspaper Column or Feature.
At every fishing tournament, there must be a judge to sort out the winners from those who merely entered. These dedicated individuals are usually volunteers and are the unsung heroes of the sport of tournament fishing. Although they are seldom seen outside their weigh stations and are never glorified as highly as even the lowest money winner, no tournament could be run without its weighmaster
Weighmasters make sure that entrants’ names and contact information are correct, that every fish weighed-in is eligible and every contestant weighing in a fish is treated equally. Weighmasters are also in charge of making sure their scales are accurate and that the weight of every fish is recorded just as accurately. Fairness and accuracy of the weighmaster are taken for granted, but these traits form the core around which the good times of everyone involved in a tournament revolve, whether or not they are fortunate enough to catch a fish to bring to the scales or even if they are merely observers or helpers and not contestants at all.
At the 10th Annual Got-em On Live Bait Club’s Disabled Sportsman’s Tournament held at Kure Beach Fishing Pier, anglers and their helpers floated inside a virtual sea of yellow Got-em On Club T-shirts. Club members were scurrying everywhere, helping disabled anglers bring their fish to the weigh station. Glancing from yellow shirt to yellow shirt, I was looking for the weighmaster. Wayne “Mac” McSwain has been the official tournament weighmaster ever since the tournament began and I had been to the tournament every year except for the last one. At the scales, I spotted Mike Harrison, who was weighing in a spadefish.
“I’m only the assistant weighmaster,” Harrison said. “We’ve weighed-in 68 fish and I think it may be a tournament record.”
More than 300 participants and their assistants jammed the pier, so I remained at the scales for the best chance of interviewing McSwain and soon spotted Steve Combs, another Got-em On Club member. He was helping Harrison with weighing fish and keeping records.
“I’m also an assistant weighmaster,” Combs said.
I looked around the crowd for the tall gentleman who had been a fixture, not only at the Disabled Sportsman’s Tournament, but at other Got-em On Club tournaments for so long.
McSwain’s wife Linda usually accompanied him, whether keeping records for a tournament or when they went fishing. Mac was a retired fire chief who was enormously talented at many pursuits. He even built the lifeguard stands that sit on the sands of Carolina Beach and Kure Beach. I discovered these things about Mac in casual conversation with Harrison while I was waiting at the scales for the weighmaster to arrive from wherever he had gone.
“I had a pick-up truck so I would help Mac carry ice, chairs and other things for setting up the tournament,” Harrison said. “I started helping him three years ago when I retired. I’m so lucky to be here today, helping Mac weigh-in fish again for the club’s Disabled Sportsman’s Tournament.”
There were several long pauses in Harrison’s conversation as he watched my face while I scanned the crowd, waiting for the weighmaster to materialize. Eventually, Harrison felt my unease and dissolved the mystery of Mac’s whereabouts. In the same moment, he demonstrated how deeply fairness and accuracy are inherent traits so deeply ingrained into any good weighmaster.
“Mac died of lung cancer two years ago,” Harrison said. “He was a beloved individual and a great man who could do anything. He allowed me to help him with the tournament until I graduated to become his assistant weighmaster. Though I will do everything I can to continue what Mac began, he will always be this tournament’s weighmaster. The rest of us will never be anything more than his assistants.”