Two Stark County students seek their futures in the great outdoors
Lily Conn talks about some mushrooms the way some people talk about fluffy dogs and newborn babies.
“They’re really cute. They have a little rounded head, it’s like a little half circle, and they’re real pudgy,” said the 13-year-old as she described her favorite fungus, the fly amanita, which resembles the red and white mushroom in the Minecraft video game.
What’s so fascinating about mushrooms, Lily says, is the diversity of the species—where one species can be used to fertilize a corn crop and another is lethal to anyone who eats it.
“We have so many mushrooms here (in the region),” she said. “Sometimes you can’t tell and it just seems like there’s the little brown ones that hang out on your yard, the ones on the trees and the ones on the dead stumps. But there’s so many out there, you just have to look for them.”
For Lily, an eighth-grader in the Canton City School District’s high-ability program, there’s no such thing as a boring walk in the woods.
“(It’s) lots and lots of, ‘Oh look, it’s a polypore mushroom. Oh, wait a minute, what type is this? And, oh wait, let’s go look under that rock,” she said.
Lily, who grew up in Dennison in Tuscarawas County, has been hiking through the trees ever since she can remember. It wasn’t until she moved to Stark County that she realized not everyone wants to be surrounded by trees. She was 8.
“It was a culture shock,” she said. “I was like, ‘You guys don’t go and run around in the woods and stuff?’ ”
Last year, Lily melded her love of nature with her interest in science by becoming one of 15 middle school girls from Ohio selected to study the biological systems of Big Darby Creek as part a Young Women’s Summer Institute. Last month, she spent a week on a backcountry ecological expedition in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains where she helped document thousands of species as part of a massive inventory project.
The trip was her first co-ed camp, and the boys outnumbered the girls 7-5. Lily, who knows she likely will be working with mostly men if she continues to pursue a career that combines nature and science and traveling, said she hasn’t really noticed a big difference in having the boys there so far.
“I think some of the boys there were more squeamish about the salamanders and snails and stuff than we were,” she said.
Instead of telling you how he got interested in fishing, Codey Reed prefers to show you. From a shelf in the family’s garage, he picks up a small, two-tone green and tan plastic tackle box that his late grandfather gave him when he was a year old. It’s engraved with the nickname “Codeman.”
“He said this kid’s going to be a really good fisherman,” Codey said. “Ever since then, I’ve loved fishing.”
At age 3, Codey went fishing on a river near Millwood, Ohio, for the first time. His mother, Teresa, recalls his sitting on a milk crate in the middle of the canoe with a life vest on and holding a fishing pole. She remembers snapping the bottom of Codey’s onesie outfit to the milk crate to keep him secured.
Codey entered his first fishing tournament, at Constitution Park in Louisville, at age 6. He won first place.
“We’ve never needed a babysitter, ever,” said Codey’s father, Doug Reed, a heating and cooling technician who fishes as a hobby. “Just put him at the side of a lake with a fishing rod and you know he’ll be pretty much in the same spot when you come back.”
Codey, who has accumulated a box full of fishing trophies, entered his first bass tournament at 14 years old at Tappan Lake. He and his 25-year-old fishing partner, the two youngest participants there, took third place.
“It’s all about the rush, and that’s what I feel every time,” he said. “When that whistle goes off for all the folks to go, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Codey, now 17 and a junior at East Canton High School, hopes to turn his hobby into a career. He wants to become a professional bass fisherman. This year, the 5-foot-8, 245-pound former lineman has given up playing football so he can devote his time to fishing and to working odd jobs to earn money to pay for fishing tournament fees and equipment.
“If I want to be serious about it, I need to practice this a lot more. There’s kids (living in the South) fishing all year round,” he said. “(Football) was fun. I loved it and will miss it. But I’ll miss it even more if I miss my dream.”
While his parents support his choice, Codey says not everyone understands. He hears the heckling from doubters who say a kid from East Canton, Ohio, has no chance of being a professional fisherman.
“There will always be people who say you can’t do it … ,” Codey said. “Because it’s weird. You don’t hear about bass pros in Ohio. Down South, yeah. But to the kids in my school, it’s weird.”
He counters the negativity with names such as Fletcher Shryock, a 2004 Newcomerstown High School graduate in Tuscarawas County, who competes in the BassMaster Elite Series against the best anglers in the world and whose initials can be found on the camouflage orange fishing equipment at major retailers. Shryock has attributed his success to his work ethic, being the first one on the lake and the last to leave. Codey says he has the same mentality.
“I never get tired. I’ve never gotten sick of fishing, ever,” said Codey, who volunteers at Outreach Walleye Club to help other kids learn the love of fishing.
Codey admits that luck sometimes helps in catching a fish, but says locating and catching fish consistently requires knowledge: knowing where to go on the lake, how to present a lure, what bait and color pattern to use for that type of fish and more.
“If it’s all luck, then I can go hit the lottery tomorrow,” Codey said. “I know no one is going to hand me anything. I have to work for it.”
He has been soaking up advice from anyone who will teach him, including a local, retired semiprofessional fisherman. Codey hopes to visit a college in Tennessee this summer, in hopes of trying out for a college bass team after he graduates from high school.
If he does well in college, he believes he will catch the eye of some national sponsors, which is how most pro anglers make enough money to fish full time. With a 3.6 grade-point average, he plans to pursue a degree in wildlife and marketing or business, which he believes will help his fishing and prepare him for a job until he makes it to the professional level.