Landon Martin remembers when he first got “hooked” on working with youngsters with special needs. In fact, he was still a youth himself, a junior in high school in Hobbs, New Mexico, in 1985, volunteering as a special education student coach.
“I had the opportunity to work with these amazing students, and there was one Down Syndrome boy named David Welty. He taught me a sense of compassion I’d never felt before in my life,” Martin said. “Now, my family and I have taken that compassion and we’ve run with it.”
Martin is now the coordinator for the C.A.S.T. For Kids fishing event, set for June 8 at 9 a.m. on Lake Weatherford. C.A.S.T. is an acronym for catch a special thrill.
Through the C.A.S.T. For Kids Foundation, established in 1991 and a national nonprofit, youngsters ages 6-18 with special needs and their caretakers come together with community volunteers for a fun day of fishing they may not otherwise experience. These events provide a break from their daily challenges, also spreading a positive message that kids with disabilities can accomplish anything.
All children are included, despite their limitations. The event is made possible through national and local sponsors — people who want to make a big difference in the lives of kids with special needs. Texas Farm Bureau Insurance is sponsoring all of the C.A.S.T. events in Texas.
C.A.S.T for Kids hosts annual fishing and boating events across America to provide children with special needs a quality outdoor recreational experience.
This is the second year for the Weatherford event, which Martin started after moving from New Mexico, where he volunteered at a C.A.S.T. event there. Weatherford is one of two C.A.S.T. events happening this week, as Azle will host one on Wednesday, June 5 at Eagle Mountain Lake.
The Azle event is specifically for youths from Cook Children’s Medical Center who are battling some form of cancer. It is known as the Ian Surratt Memorial Fishing Tournament, named after a young man who passed away from leukemia. It is in its 13th year and is coordinated by Troy Moncrief, who became good friends with Surratt.
Moncrief said he first met Surratt while on the board of the Sportsmen’s Club of Fort Worth. Some board members were helping on Cook’s fundraiser when they noticed the young man enjoying himself by the lake fishing.
“There was this one kid who was really loud and just having a great time. His name was Ian, and we all loved this kid,” Moncrief said.
Martin first got involved with C.A.S.T. in 2008 while still living in New Mexico. After moving to Texas in 2012, however, he found himself missing the event, so he took matters into his own hands.
“I was sitting in my office one day and decided I wanted to do this, so I went on the C.A.S.T. For Kids website and saw that there was a need for one here,” Martin said. “In three months we hustled and raised the money, and it was a big success. It’s even bigger this year, and it came together seamlessly this year.”
Martin raised the initial $3,500 necessary, along with several sponsors, to put the event together in a short time because he was determined to make it happen in 2018.
“A lot of sponsors from last year put the word out and said to their friends, ‘You need to look at this,’” Martin said.
Martin said the 2018 event drew 38 youths. The target for this year was 40 initially, but response was so great that Martin added 10 spots.
“This isn’t just for kids from Weatherford and Parker County,” Martin said. “We’ve got kids from Hurst, Cleburne, Fort Worth, Keller, all over coming.”
Participants in C.A.S.T. For Kids receive a plethora of goodies, including a rod & reel, T-shirt, hat, and tackle box. They also get a wooden plaque with a photo of them and their boat captain. Lunch (hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecue, etc.) is also included.
Local sponsors will also often chip in with gifts of their own, Martin said. For example, Weatherford fishermen will receive a minnow bucket stuffed with an assortment of prizes.
“We don’t call them special needs there, we call them fishermen,” Martin said.
In Weatherford there will also be activities such as a bounce house and face painting. In Azle, there will be a bounce house, along with a water slide.
The fishermen and their families go out on the lake with boat captains, volunteers who navigate the boat. Martin and Moncrief both said some great relationships have been formed between boat captains and their fishermen.
“When I started having boat captains ask if a particular kid was going to be back this year, I started calling families hadn’t registered yet and telling them,” Martin said.
And, in the case of Moncrief’s event, a youngster took it upon himself to call a boat captain.
“We had a boy named Julio. He developed a relationship with his boat captain, but one year Kevin (the captain) had to miss and Julio was on the phone calling him. Kevin never missed another event.”
In fact, though he’s aged out as a participant, Julio still comes out and volunteers, Moncrief said.
Martin has turned the Weatherford event into a family affair. His wife, Kimber, coordinates volunteer registration and fundraising, 17-year-old Keaton coordinates youth volunteers, and 27-year-old son Kaden also volunteers.
“I will make sure we get more of these in North Texas,” Martin said. “All anyone has to do to help is send me an email, and we’ll get it started, anyone who has a desire to reach out to special needs kids.”
Anyone wishing to become involved can contact Martin at Landon@castforkids.org.
“This day is packed full of queens and kings,” Martin said. “All of those kids are royalty that day.”