Reel Deal: Student's Charity Fishing Tournament Raises Autism Awareness

Mikaela Whitmer's tournament has raised thousands of dollars for new equipment and stimulation programs for the kids who need them.

Mikaela Whitmer has her own crew at Pompano Beach High School. Literally, a crew of friends who volunteer to help with her charity fishing tournament, on boats and on land.

“When you combine fishing and you combine helping out the community and supporting your own community, I mean the outcome is just incredible,” Mikaela said.

This girl has an obvious passion for fishing.

“Grew up on a boat, I’m just all about the water, the ocean, everything,” Mikaela explained.

A senior at Pompano, Mikaela also has a passion for helping others and she earned straight A’s this quarter. It’s no wonder her counselor calls her “the complete package.”

“It’s never about Mikaela, it’s always about what can she do for the cause and what can she do for others,” said Lisa Spaulding, the counseling director at the all-magnet high school.

Mikaela’s cause is the annual Trash Can Slam fishing tournament. Mikaela started it when she was in the 8th grade at Deerfield Beach Middle School as a community service project. It’s grown every year since 2015. The latest tournament, last April, had 17 boats involved. Mikaela’s running the tournament to raise money for the autism special program at Deerfield Beach Elementary School.

“The community I grew up in, Deerfield and Pompano, everyone honestly welcomes me with open arms,” Mikaela said, “and it is because everyone, I feel, has a connection to, oh, my cousin’s autistic or I know someone.”

Mikaela’s own cousins are autistic. Her tournament has raised thousands of dollars for new equipment and stimulation programs for the kids who need them.

“And to them, they may not know, but to me it’s totally electric to see them, their faces light up,” Mikaela said, explaining the reward she feels when she goes to Deerfield Beach Elementary to watch the kids use the items bought with the money she donates.

Mikaela’s also an artist, she actually designed the t-shirts for every year of her fishing tournament

“She shows us what she does and she really pushes us to be better because what she does is absolutely amazing,” said classmate Camille Stanbury.

Mikaela has already hooked her friends.

“I think all of us feel a little motivated and inspired from her because she has this wonderful thing she’s built up and she’s kept with over the years,” said fellow senior Erin Carrie.

In addition to helping autistic kids, this year Mikaela is adding a new twist to the Trash Can Slam: she’ll be awarding a scholarship to a graduating senior from her school. She’s the reel deal.

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