In 2010, Rhea County High School (RCHS) teacher and coach, Brian Derlak, formed the Eagle Anglers’ high school and middle school fishing teams, and built the program into what it is today, which is a very thriving, competitive sport, full of lots of very talented boy and girl anglers.
At the Thursday, June 11, Rhea County School Board meeting, Derlak stepped down as the Eagle Anglers’ head coach, as he felt there were more opportunities out there for the team, and he didn’t want to hold them back from reaching their full potential.
Coinciding with Derlak’s resignation, the Eagle Anglers will become a club fishing team, which basically means, they’ll no longer be under the umbrella of RCHS athletics. Being a club fishing team, will also mean the Eagle Anglers can fish in any tournament, which was Derlak’s desire for the team.
“We wanted to give these kids more opportunities to be successful,” said Derlak. “By being a club team, the Eagle Anglers would be able to fish any tournament they wished to compete in. I believe this is for the betterment and progress of this team.”
In the first year of the Eagle Anglers’ program, Derlak had 14 on the roster. Through the years, and as the interest for the sport and team grew, the most he had on the roster was 50.
Along with the RCHS talented anglers during his tenure at the helm, Derlak has had six Eagle Anglers sign scholarships to fish for college teams.
In 2018, Derlak handed to the reigns of the Rhea County Junior Eagle Anglers to Aaron Goins, who Derlak stated has done an amazing job since taking over the middle school program.
Derlak’s replacement for the Eagle Anglers will be Buddy White, as he will serve as the Eagle Anglers Fishing Club president.
The following unedited statement letter is from Derlak, as he discusses the program from its inception to where it is today:
It is truly hard to believe that 10 years have gone by since the Rhea County High School (RCHS) Eagle Angler fishing team was formed. I had seen on Bassmaster and FLW that high school fishing was becoming a reality and thought that it would be a great outreach to kids that didn’t participate in a regular sport like baseball, football, or even cheerleading. I had noticed too many kids that were not involved in something wandering the hallways trying to fit in.
My vision for the Rhea County High School Eagle Anglers was that it would be a team for ALL kids who love to fish. With Watts Bar and Chickamauga Lakes as the eastern border of our county, fishing has been a way of life for many generations of Rhea Countians. I approached Mr. Jerry Levengood, and Mr. Jesse Messimer, with my idea to get their blessing. With the green light to move forward, Mrs. Walta Toliver, suggested the Eagle Anglers as our team name.
At that time, there was not a lot of information on how to start a fishing team; everything was by trial and error. I started by creating a set of team rules that were realistic and would push the kids academically. Do your best in the classroom, come to school on time, be model students, build positive relationships with your teachers, classmates, and teammates, while being positive role models in your community.
There was always a no pass/no fish policy, which was in place for me as I was growing up. This team was designed to teach all of life’s lessons with the least important of that being fishing.
Our first organized season was with 14 RCHS students who fished inner squad tournaments all year because there was no other competition available. Every year since, the sport has grown by leaps and bounds. Most every high school in Tennessee now either has a school or a club team.
There are so many people to thank who have helped this team over the years. The Eagle Anglers appreciate all of the support provided by our Rhea County School System, the Rhea County community, business owners, sponsors, the Rhea Alliance Scholarship Fund, local fisherman, professional fishermen, and the local media for always giving the kids great coverage.
I would like to thank my entire family for supporting and encouraging the Green Team and the Coach. Thank you Lori and David for always being there!! Last, but certainly not least, without God none of this would have been possible!
Now that the torch has been passed, it is up to those to carry it now to continue shining the light so that the kids can realize that this is about so much more than just fishing. My hope for all of them is that they allow fishing to give them the skills needed as they enter the world of adulthood and deal with all of the trials grownups deal with daily.
Members of the Eagle Anglers throughout the years shared their testimonies on what the team has meant to them:
Robot Operator at General Shale
RCHS Class of 2015
My junior year of high school was really hard for me. Dropping out had crossed my mind several times over the course of a couple weeks. The one thing that kept me from making the worst decision of my life was Coach Derlak and his fishing team. To me, it was way more than a just a tournament on Saturday mornings. It was a group of guys and gals that enjoyed the same passion as I did. It was something I enjoyed doing that I could share with other students on the team.
Every time the thought crossed my mind of dropping out of school I thought to myself, if I did that then I wouldn’t be able to spend my hour lunch sitting in Coach Derlak’s room talking about the past weekend’s tournament. I couldn’t get sit there and listen to all the fish stories about the ones that got away. I wouldn’t be able to share how I almost hooked Bryce Travis AGAIN. It was more than a bunch of high school kids getting together to fish on Saturday, it was a brotherhood and a bond I made with all those guys that will never be broken no matter how far life takes us.
If it wasn’t for Brian Derlak and that fishing team and him constantly checking the whole team’s grades, I don’t know where I would be in life right now. He would always tell us that we were to take care of our class work first, and then we fish on Saturdays. I can honestly say that the team saved me from a bad road I was heading down. If it wasn’t for Coach, I wouldn’t have the job I have now or be able to provide for my beautiful wife and amazing son. I owe it all to you Brian ole buddy.
5th year Electrical Apprenticeship about to become a Journeyman
RCHS Class of 2013
The fishing team began and was organized my sophomore year at Rhea County High School. The decision to join the team was made with no hesitation and I ended up fishing until I graduated in 2013. At that time, little did I know it would make a huge impact on my life. When joining the team, I thought I would just show up hang out with some guys and fish. Little did I know, I would build lasting friendships and I would learn many valuable lessons both on the water and in life.
Our coach, Mr. Derlak was absolutely, without a doubt, the best man cut out for the job and I couldn’t imagine any other person who could fill those shoes. While pushing the anglers to do well in the classroom, he had the patience to share his lifetime of knowledge of the sport and teach those who were willing to listen.
During my time as an angler, I was privileged with fishing one state tournament at home on Lake Chickamauga and two state tournaments on Nickajack Lake. The first two years our team existed, we basically fished all inner squad tournaments due to the lack of other competing schools locally. It never mattered if you won or you lost and aside from the always present, friendly smack talk, everyone always encouraged the next person.
My time as a Rhea County Eagle Angler was both an honor and privilege and all of us previous, current, and upcoming anglers owe it all to the man that made it happen, Mr. Derlak.
And to Mr. Derlak: No matter what anyone says, we will forever be indebted to you for your time and efforts that you have given us. Thank you will never be enough. Had you asked me in May of 2013 if I’d still be in contact with you in June of 2020, I would have most likely said I hope so, but probably not. I’m truly blessed to still be in contact with you and your family. You all will always have a place in my life. Thank you Mr. Derlak and also congratulations on making the team what it is was and for getting your well-deserved break to do what you want to do now!
United States Marine Corps
RCHS Class of 2017
My time of being a part of the Rhea County High School Eagle Anglers and getting to be on the team all four years of high school was really an honor. I had a blast and have many memories to look back upon.
During my time as an Eagle Angler, I had several different fishing partners and learned different styles and techniques of fishing from each one of them. Coach Derlak was a great coach and he really cared for each individual on our team as any coach should, but he really took the time to learn each one of his anglers on a personal level and mentored them as his own.
I graduated from Rhea County High School on May 17, 2017 and joined the United States Marine Corps in August of 2017. Only being out of high school for three years, I have learned many lessons and have looked back on those memories and great times I never thought would have ended. I miss the team and the brotherhood mentality we had while being on the team. Yes, it was a competition, but we were always there for each other and always helped out our teammates.
The mentality of brotherhood and camaraderie has followed me through the Marine Corps the past couple years. I never truly grasped what that was or how close of friends you could become with someone until I enlisted. The Marines I have been with through the past couple of years aren’t my friends, they are my Brothers.
My time on the fishing team really made an impact on my life. I was able to fish with great people, meet professional fishermen, and really just grow in my love for the sport. It has taught me many lessons I can carry with me, and memories to last a lifetime.
Aspiring School Teacher
RCHS class of 2017
Fishing in high school was one of the best, most influential things I’ve ever done. I remember the first time I ever fished a tournament. It was definitely a tough day on the water. Every time you went out it wasn’t just about the catching. If that was all it was about, it wouldn’t be called fishing.
The fishing team wasn’t just a team, we were a family. When one of us needed something, one of us was always there to help. Fishing was dedication, integrity, and trust. We had to make good grades. Fishing wasn’t a right; it was a privilege that we had to earn. I think that has helped me a lot in becoming the person I am today.
It takes a lot of determination to succeed in this world. I just graduated college with an Associates of Science degree. That degree wasn’t easy for me because I had to take biology three times. I could have given up, but I was determined to get that degree. I also learned online classes are no fun. I have to use integrity every day. I want people to know the trust and faith they put in me is not taken lightly. Trust is something we have to use in everyday life. Also, I have to trust the people around me and trust what people say. Since high school, I have graduated college, gotten married, and I am traveling the United States. I live part time in Colorado for my husband’s job and I love it out here. The fishing is so different than it is at home, but it is a neat experience for sure.
Not only did the fishing team impact my life, but Coach Derlak did as well. I will always look up to him. He treated all of us the same. He is not just a coach, he is family. He is the one who inspired me to go to college to become a teacher and I hope to become half the amazing teacher he is. I will always cherish the memories I made as a Rhea County Eagle Angler, from representing us at homecoming, to fishing a tournament in my cheerleading skort. Memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.
Graduated from the Police Academy and currently awaiting a job opening
RCHS class of 2018
During my time as an Eagle Angler, I learned that fishing isn’t all about having the best boat, the best pole, or the best fish finder. Fishing in high school was more about going out on the water and having fun.
Fishing for the high school was the best way that I could have spent my time in school. Coach Derlak, along with other helpers, was the best fishing coach I believe there could have been because he had the love to mentor all teammates and teach us what we could try out on the water.
Coach Derlak always made sure the students on the team were in good academic standing before fishing to ensure that they were getting their education before any tournament. I believe without a doubt that helped me push harder in school to achieve my goals. Since then, I have chased my dream and obtained my Associate of Applied Science degree in criminal justice and am still currently awaiting a job.
Veterinarian Technician at the North Rhea Animal Hospital
RCHS class of 2017
I was always the shy type in school, stayed to myself, and never stepped out of my comfort zone. That is, until I found out that Rhea County had a fishing team. When I signed up to be on the team, I thought it would be a small club that would get together ever so often when we could and fish. Boy was I wrong. I never imagined the joys, opportunities, and memories I’d be a part of.
Many lessons came with it too. It taught me about leadership, taking responsibility for actions, lending a helping hand, patience, and how quickly a group of people can become family. After I graduated high school, I didn’t attend college for fishing, but I do apply the things I took away from it to my everyday life. I will forever be thankful for the experiences that I was a part of and the people I met along the way. Most importantly, I will always be proud to call myself an Eagle Angler.
UNITED STATES NAVY
RCHS Class of 2016
Being on the fishing team for me was more than just waking up and going out on the lake for a day. It was competition every time. It was going out on the lake with your team and giving it your all from takeoff to weigh-in.
My time spent on the team taught me more than just being a great fisherman. It taught me how to be a good teammate and brought skills to me that I still use to this day. I can’t be more thankful for the friends I made and the opportunities that the fishing team brought my way.
The skills and traits I picked up while on the team are still with me. The commitment and determination I have carried with me all the way to the United States Navy. I proudly serve my country and I wouldn’t be where I’m at now without the traits I picked up while fishing with the best group of people I could have asked for. It was more than just a fishing team, and I can’t be more thankful for being a part of it while I could. I also want to say thank you to Brian Derlak and everyone else involved. I truly am grateful.
Funeral Director, Embalmer, Life Insurance Agent
RCHS class of 2011
Fishing has always been a passion of mine since I was young. When I heard that the high school was starting a fishing team, I was excited to be able to fish tournaments with my friends.
At the time, I didn’t realize all of the other values and lessons that I would learn along the way. Patience, perseverance, and accountability are not qualities that are easily developed. I truly believe that being a part of the fishing team has helped to instill these qualities, which have impacted my adult life.
After fishing with the Eagle Anglers, I went to Tennessee Tech University and John A. Gupton College of Mortuary Science to earn my degree to become a licensed funeral director, embalmer and life insurance agent. I feel so incredibly blessed for my years on the fishing team at Rhea County High School. Mr. Derlak and the Eagle Anglers played a huge role in my high school career as they have for many other fishermen.