TYLER, Texas (BP)–Times are good for Jay Yelas.
He went to Hollywood in July and was honored with an ESPN “ESPY” Award as 2003’s Best Outdoors Athlete, partly a tribute to his winning the BASS pro fishing tour’s Angler of the Year competition — a $100,000 prize.
In 2002, the Southern Baptist won Angler of the Year on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, the other “major” of pro bass fishing circuits, as well as the BASS (Bass Angler Sportsman Society) Tour’s CITGO BASSMASTERS Classic.
Yelas probably would be thinking of ways to spend his winnings, were it not for one catch: the $100,000 came from beer giant Anheuser-Busch.
Anheuser-Busch’s sponsorship of the BASS Angler of the Year competition, announced before the 2003 season, caused a dilemma for some Christian anglers.
At least seven, including the famed Jimmy Houston, also a Southern Baptist, dropped out of the points race rather than don a required shoulder patch and boat decal that included a Busch beer logo.
Houston said last March he had received “hundreds” of supportive phone calls after Baptist Press reported his withdrawal from the BASS Tour points race.
According to Yelas, a member of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, and several other Christian anglers, the decision to compete was made warily but prayerfully.
“I prayed about it awfully hard,” he said. “There’s a lot of black and white in Scripture, but there’s also a lot left up to personal conviction.”
He’s using every penny of his Angler of the Year winnings to give away 20,000 copies of his book, “Jay Yelas — A Champion’s Journey of Faith, Family and Fishing” (Cool Springs Press). The book is available at www.jayyelas.com.
“The response has been very favorable,” said Yelas, a Texan by way of Hawaii and several other stops. “I think (the book) will touch a lot of hearts. People will be able to benefit from its truths. That’s really one of the best things to come out of all this fishing success.”
Yelas said he respects the stand Houston and others took, but he said he believed someone needed to keep a Christian presence on the tour.
“I felt God leading me to continue fishing on the tour,” Yelas said. “If all the Christians bailed out, who would be left to shine their lights for Jesus?”
Yelas contended he is not a proponent of alcohol.
“We fought (the Busch logo patch requirement) as hard as we could at the beginning of the year, but it’s my job to fish.”
He said God honored his decision and it might be the first time in the BASS Tour’s nearly 40-year history that the top three season finishers — Yelas, Alton Jones and Mark Davis — are committed Christians.
“We’re all really good friends and as the year wound down it was obvious one of the three of us was going to win it,” Yelas said. “Our prayer was that God’s will would come to pass and that the guys who didn’t win would rejoice knowing it was God’s perfect plan. It was a neat experience to put your egos aside and leave the results up to Him. By His grace He chose me to win the thing.”
Jones, a member of Fellowship Bible Church in Waco, Texas, agreed, saying, “Any time you’re a competitor in a sport, you always want to excel in the sport. Part of what we do as Christians is we try to excel, not just for worldly gain but in everything we do.
“Of course, I wanted to win that title, as did Jay, as did Mark. … That’s the nice thing about being Christians — our success in life is not completely tied to the score on the scorecard. That’s really not how we view ourselves as a success or a failure. My prayer and Jay’s prayer and Mark’s prayer I’m sure are very similar: ‘Lord, Your will be done. Glorify Yourself, don’t glorify us.'”
Jim Phillips, pastor of North Greenwood Baptist Church in Greenwood, Miss., and a close friend of Yelas, said Yelas served on a BASS advisory committee and voted against the Busch logo requirement, but “was not desiring to embarrass BASS by being so vocal.”
“He concluded that the system could not be changed if he didn’t stay in the loop, so he consented to the patch,” said Phillips, himself a professional on the Bassmaster Open Trail and a chaplain for the Fellowship of Christian Anglers Society (FOCAS).
Phillips said Yelas’ success reminds him of 1 Samuel 2:30: “[F]or those who honor Me I will honor …”
Yelas said he, Jones and Davis are three of the most outspoken Christians on the BASS Tour. Jones taught a Bible study for his fellow fishermen on the book of James during last season’s FOCAS meetings. The group normally meets one evening during each pro event, Jones said.
Yelas said “it was plainly obvious to the industry” that God was at work in bringing Jones, Davis and him to finish in the top three.
He said Romans 8:28, which speaks of God working all things together for good for His children, is a favorite verse of his.
“That’s our God,” Yelas said. “He can take lemons and make lemonade.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: ‘BEST OUTDOORS ATHLETE.’