Youths escape urban violence in program outdoors
NDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Like most urban kids, Matthew Marsh lives in a world of concrete and asphalt, of streetlights, fast-food
restaurants and liquor stores. Daily life, sadly, sometimes also comes with screaming police sirens, gang violence and gunshots.
But the 18-year-old Warren Central High School senior says he’s managed to avoid the trappings of violence and gangs thanks to an unlikely hobby.
Since he was about 13, he has found tranquility and solace sitting on the banks of the ponds and creeks that flow through Indianapolis’ urban neighborhoods. His escape is a bluegill tugging at the end of his fishing line.
“I like to come out here to go fishing because it’s quiet,” he said on a late fall afternoon beside Fall Creek, one of his favorite fishing holes a few blocks from the Eastside home he shares with his mother and 14-year-old sister. “It’s a time where I can get to myself and be patient and wait for a fish to bite.”
Marsh credits a group of mentors at the Dirty Dozen Hunting and Fishing Club for guiding him on his journey from urban kid to fledgling outdoorsman. And one mentor in particular deserves most of the credit.
“Joe King’s a good guy,” Marsh told The Indianapolis Star. “He’s really helped me out.”
King is one of the club’s founders. The 77-year-old retired estate planner says Marsh is one of many urban children his club has helped connect with the outdoors over the years through its Youth Outdoor Exploration Academy, which organizes hunting and fishing outings, outdoor educational courses and summer camps.
King said the club’s goal is to show children like Marsh that the outdoors represents an escape from drugs and crime and is an alternative to sitting around getting fat watching TV and playing video games. He said club members also hope a career in the outdoors may perhaps be seen by some young males as alternative to the unrealistic dreams of striking it rich as pro-sports players. Most club members are male.
King knows from experience just how vital such outdoor lessons can be.
“I was from a single-parent family,” King said in an interview at the East 39th Street clubhouse. A mounted largemouth bass sits on his paper-strewn desk. “My grandmother raised me because my mother worked all the time. The men in the neighborhood were my father and my role models. They were the ones who exposed me to hunting and fishing.”
Like Marsh, he said he has fond memories of fishing in Fall Creek while growing up. Those fledgling outdoors experiences have since grown into hunting and fishing trips that have taken him and other club members from Alaska to Mexico.
King said he was one of the 12 club founders who decided in 1980 that African-American urban Indianapolis residents who loved to hunt and fish deserved a place to share their passions. Through the years, he said, the club’s mission naturally branched out to sharing those passions with children. While most club members are African-American, all urban children are welcome.
As he talked, the sound of arrows popping against sturdy targets could be heard in the background. Marsh and a group of a half-dozen children were on the clubhouse floor practicing shooting arrows under the watchful eyes of a handful of adults.
King said his club this year also helped set up inaugural archery programs at several Indianapolis urban schools. He hopes the patience and practice a student needs to hit a bull’s-eye will result in the same life lessons that have been so valuable for Marsh, whom King describes as one of the club’s “poster children.”
He described Marsh as a youth leader at the club who has encouraged several friends to join. He also helps out at club events.
“To see these kids take over leadership, you’re doing something,” King said. “When that child comes through that door here, that child is just as wild as all the outdoors.
“But when these kids come in here,” King said, “they’re going to learn something.”
Marsh credits his fishing lessons and the relationships he’s developed while volunteering with helping him stay out of a gang, and, just as important, with keeping him focused on his studies. He plans to graduate high school this spring, and he’d like to someday study photography at Indiana State University.
He said fishing has helped him stay out of trouble, but sometimes trouble finds him.