Teacher gives out­doors wishes

Young­sters fac­ing crit­i­cal ill­nesses get to hunt, fish

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - OUTDOORS - swa­ters@sun-sen­tinel.com, Twit­ter@Water­sOut­doors Steve Wa­ters

When Tim Davis went to a Tallahassee hospi­tal for treat­ment on his in­jured knee, it changed his life in ways he never could have imag­ined.

That visit led to the fu­ture teacher shar­ing the lessons of the out­doors with young­sters whowould other­wise might never have an op­por­tu­nity to catch fish or take wild game.

Whether they’re reel­ing in a tar­pon or shoot­ing a wild turkey, the out­ings are a thrill for the kids and for Davis.

“You get to ex­pe­ri­ence it for the first time all over again,” said Davis, 39, who started tag­ging along on hunt­ing and fishing trips with his fa­ther, Bob, when hewas a young boy.

An eco­nom­ics teacher at Car­di­nal Gib­bons High School in Fort Laud­erdale, Davis works with the United Spe­cial Sportsman Al­liance. The USSA web­site, childswish.org, de­scribes the or­ga­ni­za­tion as an all-vol­un­teer “non-profit wish grant­ing char­ity that spe­cial­izes in send­ing crit­i­cally ill and dis­abled youth and dis­abled veterans on a free out­door ad­ven­ture of their dreams!”

USSA founder Brigid O’Donoghue pro­vides Davis with the names of kids fro­mall over the United States, many of them ill, some in wheel­chairs.

“I’ve taken 75 kids to date,” Davis said. “Six­tyeight are no longer with us.”

Davis took his first trip with an ill young­ster while hewas a stu­dent at Florida State Univer­sity. When he went to a lo­cal hospi­tal for his knee in­jury, he met a boy with spina bi­fida and they struck up a friend­ship.

On an­other visit, right af­ter a duck hunt, Davis was wear­ing cam­ou­flage and the boy said, “Mr. Tim, I’d love to go hunt­ing.” So Davis ar­ranged a hunt, and the kid, who had never hunted be­fore, shot a big white-tailed deer.

“Iwas hooked for life,” Davis said.

Af­ter be­ing hired at Car­di­nal Gib­bons, he be­came in­volved with the African Sa­fari Club of Florida and its young hunter train­ing pro­gram.

Each year, the club has a fund-rais­ing din­ner and auc­tion to pay for its con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. They in­clude the club’s youth pro­gram, which teaches teenagers about con­ser­va­tion, firearm safety, hunt­ing and wilder­ness sur­vival and lets them shoot a game an­i­mal.

“Tim is the­most safety ori­ented per­son you will ever meet,” said fel­low club mem­ber and youth pro­gram in­struc­tor Wilkie Gil­bert. “He cor­rects me, and I teach it. And he’s phe­nom­e­nal with the kids. He’s the teacher’s teacher.”

In­spired, Davis de­cided to put to­gether trips for kids with health is­sues like his friend in Tallahassee.

He pays for all of the USSA trips that he ar­ranges at places such as the Wal­lace fam­ily’s Fox Brown Out­fit­ters in In­diantown, where the kids can shoot axis deer, red deer, wild hogs, wild tur­keys, quail and doves.

“Chelsea Wal­lace opens the door for me and says ‘have at it!’ ” said Davis. “I couldn’t do it with­out places that al­lowit.”

Davis raises money for the hunts and fishing trips through events like his Fish Fry at Car­di­nal Gib­bons.

Three­weeks ago, the sev­enth an­nual event raised $14,000 thanks to a menu that fea­tured shrimp pasta, fried cat­fish, snowcrabs, bev­er­ages and dessert, as well as a raf­fle and si­lent auc­tion. Stu­dents wear­ing T-shirts that said “Giv­ing the Gift of the Out­doors” re­ceived com­mu­nity ser­vice hours for­work­ing the event, which Davis said has the bless­ing of Prin­ci­pal Paul Ott.

“He’s been my men­tor in the class­room,” Davis said dur­ing the Fish Fry, “and he’s been my big­gest sup­porter here.”

Davis also has “100 per­cent sup­port” fromhis wife, Erica, who teaches math at Car­di­nal Gib­bons and is used to him not be­ing around most week­ends.

If he’s not tak­ing out kids, Davis takes pay­ing cus­tomers on bass trips and deer, hog, turkey and duck hunts through his guide ser­vice, Glades man Out­fit­ters (glades­man­out­fit­ters.com). Fif­teen per­cent of his pro­ceeds go to take out his USSA kids and their fam­i­lies.

More than just about killing an­i­mals or catch­ing fish, Davis makes ev­ery trip a les­son about fish and wildlife and their habi­tats.

“The one thing I try to in­still in peo­ple,” Davis said, “is you have the op­por­tu­nity to make the out­doors a lit­tle bet­ter.”

TIM DAVIS/COUR­TESY

Tim Davis, an eco­nom­ics teacher at Car­di­nal Gib­bons High School in Fort Laud­erdale, takes crit­i­cally ill and dis­abled kids hunt­ing and fishing. He guided Nick to this wa­ter­buck.

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