Kids hook hearts at derby

Published November 13, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Jacob Taylor wanted to play outside like other kids.

As his mother Rebecca put it: "Hospital life is no life for anyone."

It was especially hard on the 7-year-old who, despite his age, weighed just 35 pounds.

"There were not a whole lot of smiles," Rebecca Taylor said. "It was a very, very hard time for everybody."

But the leukemia patient got an unusual invitation. Tampa attorney Steve Yerrid was hosting a fishing day for children at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort Marina.

Yerrid, an avid inshore and offshore fisherman, would supply rods, reels and bait. The Coastal Conservation Association and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission would have volunteers on hand to offer the necessary expertise. All Jacob had to do was show up.

"He didn't catch anything," his mother said. "But it really didn't matter. It got him out of the hospital for a day, and that made a huge difference."

Today, Jacob is just another seventh-grader at Osceola Middle School. He has put on weight and regrown his hair, and smiles no longer are in short supply.

"He has undergone his last treatment," his mother said. "We have come a long way."

On Friday, there was a larger than life picture near the stage at the Steve Yerrid Kid's Fishing Derby.

When Yerrid saw Taylor, he couldn't believe how the youngster had grown.

"What, you too big for hugs now?" Yerrid asked him.

Taylor smiled.

"That's what I wanted to see," Yerrid whispered in my ear. "It's all about the smiles."

The derby, in its seventh year, started with seven children. This year more than 70 young cancer patients crowded the docks at the Vinoy for the derby, probably the most popular event in the four-day Chuck LaMar Mercury Grand Slam Fishing Tournament.

"You come out here and you can see the results of all the hard work that is being done," said Yerrid, a major supporter of the Tampa-based Pediatric Cancer Foundation. "We know that 20 percent of the kids out here won't make it. But 15 years ago, that number was 40 percent. We are making a difference, but we still have a lot of work to do."

LaMar and his friends have raised more than $1-million for research. The former Devil Rays general manager, an avid angler who has traveled the world, said the derby has become the highlight of what many consider to be the premier charity fishing event in the Tampa Bay area.

"I know that some of the kids fishing here today may not be here next year," said LaMar, the father of three. "That can be hard to deal with at times. But it just shows how important our work is. We can find a cure."

Tampa's Kenny Hyatt is one of Florida's most successful tarpon fishing guides. The rich and famous wait in line for the chance to fish with the man, who this summer landed the largest tarpon (216 pounds) ever caught in Boca Grande Pass. But on Friday, he spent his morning hooking shrimp instead of tarpon.

"This has been a real humbling experience for me," Hyatt said. "It makes me think of just how lucky I am."

Barbara Reebold, the foundation's executive director, said the derby is often the "bright spot in the whole year" for many of the young cancer patients.

"When you work in research, you don't get to see the results up close," she said. "But come out here all you have to do is look around. You can see it in the smiles."

To learn more about the Pediatric Cancer Foundation or participate in next year's derby/LaMar event, go to www.pcfusa.org