ESPN2: Companionship, healing, turnabout

  • Editor's note: ESPN2's "BassCenter" re-airs at 5:30 a.m. ET this Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

    My home town is small and I know it well. I am hard pressed to think of a kid in trouble who grew up in a family that went hunting together. That is a phenomenon we should ask our critics to explain. You can depend on others to teach your children values if you wish, but you will be selling many people short in the process. I prefer to accept this responsibility myself, in the field.

    — E. Donnall Thomas Jr., "Longbow Country"

    Wise old King Solomon once wrote that if you train a child in the way he or she should go, when they are old, they will not depart from it.

    Such sage wisdom is precisely what fuels the parenting efforts of Robby and Kerry Smith, dad and mom to Brett Smith, a courageous 12-year-old angler, hunter and cancer survivor from Williamsburg, Va.

    ESPN Outdoors viewers might remember Smith, whose unique friendship with 2000 Bassmasters Classic champ Woo Daves was chronicled earlier this year after Brett had fought off Hodgkin's lymphoma.

    During Brett's struggles, the Spring Grove, Va., resident Daves served as a close friend, an angling companion and a source of inspiration.

    That friendship once again will be front and center this Bass Saturday at 11 a.m. ET when the mid-morning edition of "BassCenter" airs on ESPN2.

    ("BassCenter" re-airs at 5:30 a.m. ET this Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on ESPN2.)

    But this time on the Deuce, the Christmas Eve show will chronicle how the tables were turned earlier this year as Daves, a five-time BASS winner, battled prostate cancer.

    "When I first met Brett, he was the one doing a lot of suffering from (Hodgkin's) and his treatments," Daves said. "We became really good friends and it almost felt like he was a second son.

    "It was a real blessing from the Lord for him to go into full remission."

    "Then it comes around that here I am with prostate cancer and now I had him praying for me," Daves said. "It kind of worked out good for the both of us."

    Daves' diagnosis came in early summer this year after a routine physical and a PSA blood test, something he recommends for any man over the age of 40.

    "When you find out that you have the big "C" word, it is not good," Daves said. "I had a lot of worries."

    But that's when Daves' friendship with Brett began to pay some dividends in a new direction, as Woo prepared for the battle of his life.

    It was a battle that the popular BASS angler fought with the combined assistance of his family, his friends — including the Smiths — and the Christian faith they share.

    "Our families have really prayed a lot in both directions," Daves said.

    Fortunately, those prayers appear to have helped Daves win his fight with prostate cancer. Following surgery in July, Daves received a cancer-free report from his doctor just days ago.

    "I didn't worry about it like I thought I would, and I think that's because of knowing Brett and spending time with him," Daves said.

    "His (cancer) was 100 percent worse than mine. But even when he was tired, he had that big smile and a positive attitude."

    In Daves' mind, Brett's outlook on life — and his passion for the outdoors — comes as a direct by-product of the strong relationship he has with his dad, Robby.

    "I have all of the respect for him in the world as a father," Daves said of Robby Smith.

    So does Kerry Smith, Robby's wife and Brett's mother.

    "Robby had a good role model in his dad," Kerry said. "And he's had a good role model in my father since his dad passed away."

    In Kerry's eyes, the lesson that both older men taught best is simply this: Spend time with your kids, especially in the outdoors world.

    Following in the footsteps of his father and father-in-law, Robby has learned that lesson well, according to Kerry.

    In fact, she says her husband rarely, if ever, goes hunting or fishing without sixth-grader Brett — or his fourth-grade sister Brooke — in tow.

    "We do a lot of outdoors stuff as a family, the four of us together," Kerry said.

    "Our boat doesn't leave the yard without all four of us in it. Robby won't go fishing unless we're all together."

    For his part, Robby — a very humble man, I might add — admits that he is far from being the perfect father.

    But, even so, that doesn't keep him from trying to follow the legacy of love, time and sacrifice that his own father lived out before his death in 1998.

    One example of such fatherly commitment readily comes to mind every time Robby pulls a certain shotgun from its case.

    "My dad loved to fish, but he really didn't hunt," Robby said. "But my brother and I decided that we wanted to go hunting, and the first thing my dad did was go out and buy each of us a Remington automatic shotgun.

    "We both still have those guns today. My dad had trouble paying the bills sometimes, but he was going to be sure that we had shotguns."

    Today, Robby is trying his best to pass on the torch that his father left behind. Case in point is the time Robby spends hunting and fishing with both of his children.

    In the past two years, that time spent in the woods and on the water has produced Brett's first buck — a six-point with a drop tine taken with a .50 caliber muzzleloader — and a 40-pound catfish this past summer.

    It also has produced some quality father/daughter time, thanks to Brooke's first full hunting trip with Robby.

    "Brooke and I hunted all day long recently," Robby said. "In fact, my computer desktop picture has now graduated to Brooke all dressed up in her camouflage outfit."

    For Robby, just as he has learned from his dad and his father-in-law, that's what it's all about.

    "The real trophy in hunting is seeing your child succeed at it," Robby said.

    "There's no buck that's big enough that can compare to that. There's no Milo Hanson buck out there that can compare to seeing your (child) kill his first deer."

    As the pair of Virginia families bonded by faith, friendship and cancer survival prepare to celebrate Christmas and exchange outdoors gifts — not to mention share a holiday rabbit hunt or two — Daves agrees with his friend Robby.

    "You can find a hundred things to do that don't involve your kids, but when you find that one thing to do with your kids it means more than those 100 things you did without them," Daves said.

    "Whether you let them kill a deer, kill a rabbit or simply sit out there and watch a bunch of ducks fly by, the nice thing about it is that there's no better quality time you can spend with them.

    "The more time you spend with your kids, the better they turn out."

    Maybe old King Solomon was right after all.

  • ESPN2's "BassCenter" re-airs at 5:30 a.m. ET this Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.