The trophy of his dreams
BY KELLY BOSTIAN World Outdoors Writer
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
2/19/13 at 6:34 AM
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Every year, his Del City-based company builds some of the most recognizable and desired trophies and rings in collegiate and professional sports.
But one, more than any other, tugs at the heart strings of MTM Recognition owner Dave Smith - the Bassmaster Classic World Champion trophy.
"It is my passion. To me it's the Super Bowl of my life. I'll go over there and double-check on the Classic trophy before I will one of the other major events that we work on. ... It's pretty special to me, the Classic is, even though I've never participated in it."
Smith, 67, enters the 2013 Bassmaster Elite series as the oldest angler on the tour. During each of his 23 years as a professional angler, he has been the first one on the tour to touch the World Champion trophy and check on the Bassmaster Champion ring, but he never has secured the opportunity to compete for those awards.
His story of fishing, family and awards dates back 45 years. In 1968 he was a tall, lanky graduate of Oklahoma Christian University, a skilled basketball player, high school teacher and coach who would take Oklahoma City's Southeast High School to the state championship in 1976.
But the Alabama kid who grew up fishing Pickwick Lake was intrigued by what he learned about the new Bass Angler Sportsman Society he read about in newspapers and magazines.
"I called up (BASS founder) Ray Scott," he said. "We are still good friends and he says he remembers that call, but I don't know if he does really."
Scott was a good salesman, he said, but as much as Smith loved the idea of competitive bass fishing, the sound of tour fishing didn't have all the right elements.
"I had a pretty wife and just got married, and I looked at her and I looked at Ray and it was a pretty easy choice," he said.
Smith wanted to build a business, and he did just that.
"I wanted to be in business all my life, and I first thought about sporting goods but never thought I could make a tennis shoe or a basketball, but a trophy is something I could do," he said.
He started small, and notes that "a dozen or more" bass fishing clubs were among his first customers.
He started from a small shop in Del City on the edge of a lumberyard that now is the MTM Recognition campus that holds eight buildings where awards are king. The company has 800 employees, owns the recognition division of Jostens, and has several divisions around the country and one in China. He has done well and is known on the tour to have taken his private jet to reach tournaments.
MTM Recognition made trophies for 22 college bowl games this year. Annually it provides the championship awards in most major college conferences and builds top collegiate and professional sports awards so prestigious that licensing agreements prevent their specific naming here.
Those are just the well-known items. The company also provides awards and trophies for Fortune 100 companies and local schools and businesses.
Those items are the bread and butter, and Smith is a disciple who preaches the importance of giving employees the recognition they deserve.
"We are the largest symbolic recognition provider in the country," Smith said.
At the top of the heap, in Smith's view, are the awards for the Bassmaster Classic.
The ring, made as part of that relationship with Jostens, is like any sports championship ring; it's heavy, 10-carat gold, with a wide bezel supporting 16 diamonds around an onyx stone with the signature Bassmaster rising bass emblem in gold in the center.
The basic design of the Classic trophy with that rising bass was established many years ago, but the overall design has evolved, Smith said.
"We have the responsibility to bring it up to 2013 status as we have done with other awards," he said.
The trophy has a green granite base with a body made of Burlstone, a material similar to synthetic marble countertops, with the Bassmaster shield on the front in brass and a top with the signature bass rising from the earth in solid bronze. The structure weighs about 28 pounds.
"We had to keep it light enough so they could lift it over their heads," he said.
The bronze on top, incredibly detailed and heavy, was designed and sculpted by MTM artists and engineered and created at the Del City plant.
"We're constantly doing things to keep the same look, keep the same symbol but add more life to it," Smith said. "The media today picks up on awards, and we have a responsibility to create an award that not only the fans and the participants but the media likes as well."
Smith said the company updated the trophy for Elite Series tournaments this year as well.
"That one is heavy," he said. "If they drop that one it won't break the trophy, it will break the table they drop it on, or the floor," he said.
Both the Classic and Elite trophies will be on display at the Bassmaster Outdoor EXPO Friday through Sunday at the Tulsa Convention Center.
Trophy and recognitions aside, Smith only half-jokes when he says, "this is an ancillary business. Fishing is my living."
While many anglers get on the tour early in life and make it their career, Smith took the other route, creating a business, seeing his kids off to their own careers and then going fishing.
"When I turned 44 I told them, 'I'm going fishing,' " he said.
In 23 years on the BASS tour he has had two top 10 finishes and finished in the money 33 times. He also fished some FLW Tour and Canadian Tour events and in 2008 won the Toyota Texas Bass Classic team event with anglers Kelly Jordon, Lance Vick, and David Walker.
"I know I started late and it took a while to teach an old dog new tricks, and you know they've got a lot of new tricks out there," he said. "It probably took me a few years to figure out how bad a fisherman I was."
Last week Smith planned to hit the road to Texas for early practice on the Sabine River and Falcon Lake sites of the first two Elite Series tournaments this year. The Classic next year is in his birth state of Alabama and he wants to be there.
"I'm going to take it a little more seriously this year," he said.
Whether he is the one to hoist 28 pounds of World Champion trophy over his head this time next year is beside the point. He fishes at the top level of his favorite sport and lives a dream.
"It was said one time a champion is the person who got in the arena, and I always look for the arena," he said.
2013 BASSMASTER CLASSIC
Presented by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa
All venues free and open to the public
Launch event: Daily 6-7 a.m. at Wolf Creek Park and Boat Ramp, Grove
Field: 53 of the world's best anglers
Cut: Field cut to 25 top anglers on final day
First prize: $500,000 with World Champion trophy and Bassmaster Classic Champion ring
Total purse: $1.2 million
Weigh-in show: Daily 3 p.m. (doors open) BOK Center, Tulsa
The Outdoor Expo presented by Dick's Sporting Goods
Venue: Tulsa Convention Center
Friday: Noon-8 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Bass Bash Street Fair
Venue: Third Street between BOK and Convention Center
Opens 11 a.m. daily
Kelly Bostian 918-231-1385
Dave Smith says this year's Bassmaster Classic World Champion trophy will look similar to this replica of last year's award at his MTM Recognition business in Del City. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Chad Carpenter works on a Bassmaster Classic trophy as it is created at the MTM Recognition facility in Del City earlier this month. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World