Hope Lacefield, of Gatesville, laughed as she described her attempt to reel in her sixth fish, a large catfish, which ultimately got away after breaking her fishing rod.

Lacefield was one of dozens of special needs children participating in the Catch a Special Thrill for Kids charity fishing tournament at Airport Beach Park in Waco Saturday.

C.A.S.T. for Kids is a nonprofit organization that pairs volunteer fishing instructors with special needs children for a day of fishing. The organization has 15 annual events in Texas and 80 nationwide. Saturday marked the group’s second event in Waco.

“We try to pay our good fortune forward to these people who deserve it,” said Jim Behnken, C.A.S.T. for Kids Western Regional Director. “We can’t cure what they have, but I guarantee you we cure it for a day.”

High functioning autism can lead to a solitary life, said the 15-year-old Lacefield, but with the help of C.A.S.T. for Kids she’s made friends and picked up a new hobby. Saturday was her third time to attend the event.

“When you see the little kids catching a fish, it just makes you smile and you want to cry,” said her mother Karen Lacefield. “I love seeing Hope. The very first time it was very scary for her, because she had never fished before, but everybody came around and started being real nice and encouraging to her.”

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China Spring’s Sloan Brown holds up a fish caught by Braylen Fernandez, 11, along the banks of Lake Waco during the annual C.A.S.T. for Kids event.

At her first event she caught “Rocko,” a large catfish with a comical name.

Dean Land recently moved to Waco from Washington. He joined dozens of other volunteers Saturday to teach kids how to fish.

“I grew up in foster care and I like working with special needs kids,” Land said. “To me it’s just a good fit. I get to come out and play around and get some sun.”

Land has volunteered his time at five C.A.S.T. events in two different states.

“It’s just fun watching them, like when she pulls a fish in, she starts jumping around and squealing,” he said with a laugh. “It’s fun to watch them have a good time.”

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Dozens of kids, volunteers and pro fishermen line the banks of Lake Waco as new anglers try their luck at the annual C.A.S.T. for Kids fishing tournament at Airport Beach Park.

For the past two years, Haley’s Heroes has sponsored the Waco C.A.S.T. event, on behalf of Haley Klepper, a 17-year-old battling a rare nameless metabolic disease. Saturday was the first time Klepper could attend her event.

“She has a rare disease,” said her mother, Brenda, choking back tears. She explained the disease presented itself in the form of seizures when Haley was 6-years-old. A decade later, the disease has left her daughter unable to walk and hear.

“Our heart goes out to all handicapped children,” Klepper said. “It doesn’t matter what they have, because we know what those parents go through. We’ll support (C.A.S.T.) in any way we can as long as we can.”

Lauren Dodd has covered education for the Tribune-Herald since May 2018. A native of Beaumont, Dodd attended Rhodes College and joined the Tribune-Herald in 2018. She previously worked as a reporter at the Seguin Gazette and the Killeen Daily Herald.

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