By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
Ronnie ‘Cuz’ Strickland, with Mossy Oak, tells it best: “I was at a big trade show – one attended by the entire outdoor industry every year. I was taking a walk around to the different booths and I’d already been stopped by a dozen well-known big wigs who wanted to brag about where they’d hunted and what all they’d shot in the past year, or wanted to tell me how great they were and how important their business is to the world, when I saw a guy at a small table by himself.
“I saw he had a little board behind him without any pictures of trophy animals, but only of smiling kids, so I walked over. He told me he was a teacher from an inner-city school in Pennsylvania, and that he’d begun a program that taught kids who had practically never set foot off of pavement before about the outdoors.
“I don’t mean he just took them on a one-time hunt as a premise to get himself a chance to shoot something for free, but he really taught kids what the outdoors and the hunting traditions are all about through a program that worked with them for years. He said his program requires its participants to keep their regular grades up, to come to school every day and behave in class, to take pride in themselves and stay on a course that will lead them to become responsible citizens someday. By doing that, he said, they learn about life, and through the outdoor instruction his program offers, they learn about what life has to offer. They learn there’s so much more out there beyond what they see on Allentown’s tough streets every day. They learn there’s all that he’s showing them and everything more they can imagine, and they learn that all the best of what the world has to offer can come to those who work hard and try.
“I learned he was doing this outside of his regular job, that he taught school to pay his family’s bills, did the best he could to raise money for his program, and made up the balance out of his own pocket.
“That’s when it hit me that in a huge convention center with thousands of well-known outdoor celebrities strutting up and down the aisles, the only real hunting hero in the whole place was standing right in front of me. And I made up my mind we had to help this fellow.”
What John Annoni has accomplished with Camp Compass Academy since 1994 is really amazing. Check him out at CampCompass.org. He’s been at it long enough now that many of his first students are grown and have families of their own. Without exception they credit John for much of what’s best about their lives today. More than simply giving, he’s teaching men and women to fish in every sense of the term, and he’s proving the real worth of all the best of our traditions.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.