The first annual Dean Peeples Memorial Scholarship Open Bass Tournament on Saturday, June 19, will raise funds for Lander University scholarships honoring an avid bass fisherman who died last summer in a drowning accident.
The tournament, which will be held at the Lake Russell 72 Ramp, will award $2,000 to the first-place team. The entry fee is $100 per team, plus an optional $10 fee for the "big fish" award.
The tragedy was the worst type of news that a parent can receive and certainly the worst for Dean's parents, R. Douglas "Skeeter" and Jamie Davis Peeples of Greenwood, both of whom are Lander University employees.
Dean may have been only 19 years old, but he had a good start on figuring out life and what was important to him, said Peeples.
With a deep commitment to helping people through tough times and a passion for fishing in bass tournaments with his father, Dean was moving forward from his teen years into adulthood. He had a job at Velux in Greenwood that he loved, a wide circle of friends from all walks of life and plans for his future.
The tournament comes on the one-year anniversary of the swimming accident that claimed Dean's life. June 19 was the day before Dean's 20th birthday and two days before Father's Day. In the weeks after Dean's death, his family thought about how they could commemorate his life and honor his memory. Their desire was to continue Dean's legacy of helping others and honor two of his great passions - fishing and wrestling, team sports that he had enjoyed as a high school student.
They established the Dean Peeples Memorial Scholarship at Lander to provide scholarships for athletes on the Lander Bearcats wrestling team and bass fishing team, a newly formed program in the University's athletics department.
"Dean loved these sports at Greenwood High School and enjoyed the friends he had made. The competition helped shape and challenge him to constantly improve. Sports gave him the discipline to grow and the determination to care about other people," Peeples said.
Outside of school and work, fishing provided the outlet for the father and son to slow down and talk and reflect. "You talk about a lot of things when you're out on a lake all day in a boat together," he said. "We squeezed a lot of things into every little bit of time we had together. I have no regrets out of the 20 years we were allowed."
John Cooper, director of the Eagle Eye Anglers fishing team for young people in Greenwood County, said Dean had a positive impact on everyone he met, including his teammates. "He was always willing to put in the hard work that it takes to be an angler and to help the team in any way that he could. He showed up, worked hard and was always moving forward with his goals. He was just the kind of guy that you would want on your team."
Cooper said he had known Dean since he was a toddler attending Northside Baptist Church in Greenwood with his parents. "Simply put, he was a wonderful young man. The scholarship is a generous gift to come out of a terrible tragedy. It will help students continue their education and preserve our memory of Dean as an outstanding fisherman."
Nick Mountz, Greenwood High School's wrestling coach, echoed many of Cooper's sentiments. He described Dean as a "very generous and kind young man who was always willing to help anyone out."
A hard-working, competitive wrestler, Dean was focused on improving his skills each year. "Although he was outgoing and joked with his teammates, Dean also was very humble," said Mountz, who coached Dean over a five-year period.
"No one really knew the influence he had because it was so great. He impacted many lives in subtle ways. He was the first to volunteer to give a kid a ride home after practice. He encouraged those who needed help," Mountz said. "He was someone the other students trusted. That is quite a legacy to leave behind."
He believes the scholarship at Lander will have an impact on many lives. "Just as Dean helped so many people in his short life, this scholarship will help other young people pursue their dreams as student athletes," Mountz said.
For Dean's great-aunt Sandra Rankin, the memories of their conversations at her kitchen table will linger forever.
"Dean would come over and help me around the house with my projects. He always was so helpful in that way, and he would tease me and say 'you want things done just so.' We would laugh about that. Our visits would often end with us sitting at the table and talking about what was going on his life. He wanted to find a girlfriend who would enjoy going to church with him. His faith was important."
Rankin said it was clear that his passion for sports and fishing with his father were important to him. "My husband Alvin and I were so proud of him and the young man he was becoming," she said. "When he came by, it was fun. Dean was always smiling, and he never complained about anything. I will always love our talks. It was our time together."
More than 1,200 people attended Dean's funeral, a turnout that Peeples said stunned the family. "We were overwhelmed by the support that we received and the amazing stories that people told us of how Dean had helped them or their child," he said. "We had no idea the impact that he had made on people we didn't even know."
The family hopes that the scholarship fund, with an initial goal of $10,000, will grow over the years and offer greater support for Lander students. They also hope that the tournament will become an annual event, Peeples said.
"Dean loved wrestling. He may not have been the best member of the team, but he never gave up, and he was willing work hard," Peeples said. "He had that same dedication with fishing. He was a natural fishermen, and his instincts for the sport were better than mine. He was on track to be an excellent fisherman."
Information about the tournament can be found on the Facebook page, Dean Peeples Memorial Scholarship, or by calling Chris Coleman, 864-553-4469; Rusty Nickles, 864-554-9267, or Peeples, 864-941-0948.
The Eagle Eye Anglers are preparing hot dog plates for $5, with all proceeds going to the scholarship fund.
Visit https://78882.thankyou4caring.org/give/select-your-fund to contribute directly to the Douglas Dean Peeples Scholarship.