As of just six weeks ago, the 44th annual Fort Lauderdale Billfish Tournament wasn't going to happen. Event planner East Coast Eventz told the Marine Industries Association of South Florida in December that it simply couldn't secure any sponsors. Kitty McGowan, who sits on the board of the association, responded: "No way!" McGowan offered to step in as an unpaid organizer and...the fishing tournament held its kick-off party last night at the Las Olas Marina. It just so happens that McGowan, a cheery redhead who seems to know everyone in the marine industry, had previously coordinated the tournament for nine straight years -- so she was able to call in some favors.
McGowan put her beer down for a few minutes during the kick-off party to explain how it all went down. "I said, 'Look, hey, I'm back. I need ya.' They all said 'OK.' I never once heard, 'Hey, it's a bad economy. I can't do it.' It was more like, 'I can't give you $10,000 like last time, but I can pitch in $2,000.'"
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McGowan had to fight back tears as she reflected on the generosity.
"The marine community and fishermen are really attached to this event," she continued. "It's a part of Fort Lauderdale. A lot of the participants remember coming with their fathers and grandfathers. It used to be a twice-a-year event, a way to kick off and send off the tourist season."
In recent years, McGowan says the fishing tournament required about $50,000. This year, thanks in large part to donated services and items, she says it's squeaking by on a lot less. All entry fees go toward the cash prizes, with everything else -- raffle items, food, etc -- donated by local restaurants and businesses. Single-day registration for Saturday runs at $395, with cash prizes of $4,000 for the largest of each of the following fish: Dolphin, Tuna, Wahoo, and Kingfish. For more details, check out this website.
The kickoff party, held under a tent, was packed. Sunburned fishermen downed free Cruzan rum cocktails and grub from Bimini Boatyard while a band belted the sort of tunes you'd expect to hear at any dockside bar (think Margaritaville). Raffle items included "multi-size de-hooker kits" and other specialized creations that any landlubber couldn't possibly have a use for. And, for the briefest of moments, it felt like the economy wasn't totally in the crapper.