Amanda Morales was "in it to win it" Friday. She clutched her fishing pole, hoping she would catch the biggest fish and win the Whaler green-and-gold fishing pole that the school resource officer had made especially for the event.
Morales was one of more than 30 New London High School students aboard the fishing charter Sunbeam as it made its way out to The Race off Little Gull Island in Long Island Sound.
Friday's fishing trip is part of the school district's Hope Week events, which are scheduled to continue today from noon to 2 p.m. with student performances on The Parade Plaza. It was designed to pull students out of their comfort zones by getting them out on the water. And for many, it was the first time they had been on a boat, let alone on a fishing trip.
"I was fortunate enough to grow up with a father who had a boat, and he took me fishing," School Resource Officer Max Bertsch said. "It's a chance to come out of uniform and just enjoy fishing and teach some of these kids how to fish. A lot of these kids don't have a healthy hobby, so this is a way to introduce them to one.
"This is the beginning of a summer of adventure."
Over the summer, Bertsch said, he plans to take a group of students kayaking and on a hike up Lantern Hill in North Stonington. "The only adventures they know is the city," he said. "I'm going to take them out of the city and on the water and into the woods."
New London High School teachers, city police officers and members of the city police union chipped in to cover the cost of the trip so no student who wanted to go was denied, Bertsch said.
In the end, students caught 11 fish. Freshman Victoria Tritch pulled in the winner with a 36-inch striped bass.
Some students failed to gain their sea legs and quickly took respite in the boat's cabin. But freshman Jazzriel Lara said she's watched enough fishing shows on television that she couldn't wait to get her line in the water. "I've always wanted to learn how to fish so I can go out with my brothers," she said.
Though she started off slow, Lara ended up reeling in a 31-inch striped bass.
"It was strong," she said. "It was like I had to use my body as one muscle to pull it out of the water. It was amazing. I can't wait for my brothers to experience something like this. It's a total adrenaline rush."
Waiting impatiently for a bite was Irving Acevedo. It was his first time fishing, and the freshman appeared to have a grasp on the basic concept. Occasionally, he would peer over the edge of the Sunbeam and down into the murky ocean water, only to thrust himself backward and say, "It's scary down there."
As the tide began to change, Acevedo felt a tug and began to reel his line in. "It feels like something is trying to pull me under, but it's getting lazy," he said.
His fish was gone.
As the Sunbeam started its journey back to port, shipmate Justin Carlson began to fillet the fish. Each student took a large fillet home, but Tritch couldn't help but feel guilty.
"I should have failed at fishing in the first place so it could stay alive," she said. "I care that the fish should have lived, but it can't because of me. I love animals."
Just before Carlson dropped the fish on the carving board, Tritch gave it a kiss.