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North country breaks Bassmaster attendance record

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WADDINGTON — With a population of just 972, Waddington has surpassed Bassmaster Elite records and set the all-time attendance record for the Bassmaster Elite Tournament.

A total of 34,100 people turned out for the Aug. 8 to 11 Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown on the St. Lawrence River, breaking the record for the second time this season, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society said in a news release Wednesday. The previous four-day record of 33,650 was set at this season’s opener, in Orange, Texas.

“Elite Series attendance is an excellent measure of how the sport of bass fishing continues to grow,” BASS CEO Bruce Akin said in the release. “B.A.S.S. and its sponsors work to promote each event going in. But of course we would not be breaking attendance records if the local hosts weren’t going all-out to create the level of interest we’ve been seeing this year.”

Mayor Janet M. Otto-Cassada said attendance far exceeded her expectations.

“I am ecstatic,” she said after the numbers compiled by law enforcement were released. “I knew we would be able to pull it off. I knew the numbers would be high, but this is was better than we could have imagined. I thank the Lord the weather was with us. I believe that had an impact and a great deal to do with the turnout.”

She said that with a partnership among FishCap, surrounding municipalities, local and St. Lawrence County emergency services personnel and the county Chamber of Commerce, Waddington became the little village that could.

FishCap, an organization devoted to promoting fishing in the north country, first planted the seed for BASS organizers more than a year ago. A 10-member volunteer board spent much of the past year planning the tournament.

FishCap coordinator Donald R. Meissner said it took a lot of coaxing to convince BASS organizers that Waddington was a worthwhile location for a tournament.

“To go from where it started to where this has come together is probably the most rewarding and gratifying things that ever happened in my life, and it moved me emotionally to see people in this area come together like this,” he said. “This is the smallest area population in BASS history and yet we brought the most people.”

While 99 anglers competed for a $100,000 top prize and a chance to appear in the Bassmaster Classic in the water, fans were drawn to Whittaker Park by a big slate of free entertainment, including the four-day Tastes of the North Country Festival with more than 100 vendors, 15 concerts, exhibits and fireworks, all organized by the village of Waddington, the official host.

During the event, hundreds of volunteers from Waddington and surrounding areas pitched in on tournament days. They handled parking and shuttles and picked up trash each night at the venue.

An economic impact study of the event is underway, volunteer Robert J. Giordano said.

“I can tell you now that all the businesses we talked to said it was very, very successful for them,” he said.

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