Photo by Sarah Finnegan.
Robert Berhle and his daughter Zoe are pictured outside of Mark's Outdoors in Vestavia, one of the sponsors for Berhle's fishing tournament.
Bluff Park resident Robert Behrle hates cancer — childhood cancer in particular. Behrle is also what he calls a doer.
For the past three years, Behrle has organized the annual Bass Fishermen Against Childhood Cancer tournament, which this year raised $3,200 to go toward the medical bills of a Hoover teenager with stage three Hodgkins’ lymphoma.
“Children are our future and are so innocent,” Behrle said. “They can only play the cards they are dealt. I am blessed with five healthy children of my own. I love children. I have a soft heart — I hate cancer, and I want to help the children and their family pay their bills and do whatever I can.”
Behrle calls it his mission.
“Helping childhood cancer research or helping a family going through hell — it’s my mission, I guess,” he said. “I love children. Everyone hates cancer and feels bad when a child has cancer, but says ‘OK, it’s not happening to me, too bad for them.’ I can make a difference, and I try to make a difference.”
In addition to his work as an excavator and owner of All-South Excavating, Behrle is a professional fisherman. In a tournament at Lake Guntersville, he gave $5,000 of his $35,000 winnings to help pay for the medical bills of an acquaintance.
“Fishing professionally doesn’t need to be all about me — I need to have a purpose,” Behrle said. “It’s not all about me, me, me.”
Behrle created his own tournament three years ago. His first recipient was a boy in Knoxville suffering from neuroblastoma. Last year, he gave the proceeds to a little girl from Iowa, where Behrle is originally from. This year, he found his recipient locally — his daughter goes to school with the recipient’s sister. The tournament was Nov. 5 at Lay Lake and hosted 37 boats from daylight until 3 p.m.
“This is our third annual tournament, and we get a little bit bigger every year,” Behrle said. “I eventually want to help two, three or four children and help as many families as I can. I’m doing it every year until I can’t walk.”
In addition to the boats each paying a $100 entry fee, Behrle raised money with help from sponsors such as Airport Marine, Cahaba Tractor in Pelham, Mark’s Outdoors, Motivated Movers, Rick Hendrick Chevrolet in Hoover, Southern Offroad, Thompson Tractor, Truck Works of Birmingham, Veteran’s Oil of Bessemer and his own company, All-South Excavating.
“There’s a lot of good people in the world,” Behrle said. “I mainly asked vendors or people I do business with. Some of them are bigger companies, and some aren’t. You’d be surprised how many people want to help. Because there’s a lot of good fishermen that care as I do. I tried to include that, using the platform of fishing professionally to bring awareness.”
If Behrle’s wildest dreams came true, he said he would obtain a corporate sponsor from Birmingham to sponsor him to fish professionally, so he could spend more time raising money for children with cancer.
“It makes me want to cry when I see a child with cancer,” he said. “A lot of diseases aren’t deadly, but cancer is. I like my job, but it would be nice to have a Birmingham-based sponsor to help promote [the tournament] and make it go bigger and bigger.”
The ever-humble Behrle — who said he is “better than average” when asked if he was a good fisherman — only fished in his first bass fishing tournament when he was 40. That was 16 years ago, and he has fished professionally at the top level for three years. A former men’s fast-pitch softball player, Behrle was involved in a car accident in 1999 that forced his retirement.
“I had to quit playing,” he said. “I couldn’t run anymore. I said when I got old, I would start bass fishing. My life is fishing, faith, family and work — but not in that order.”
Behrle wears a Bible verse — Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” — on his fisherman’s jersey. Soon, it will be emblazoned on his boat. He said he doesn’t know why someone wouldn’t want to give back, because he feels compelled to.
“I wish I could have given her $10,000,” he said.