The lives of three men killed in a car accident in January will be honored this weekend in a Lanesboro fishing tournament. The three men were friends and enjoyed fishing together as the photo above demonstrates. They are, from left, Andrew Kingsbury, Matthew Erickson and Blake Overland. The Bass Pond Ice Fishing Tournament in Lanesboro has been renamed the Lanesboro Memorial Ice Fishing Tournament.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
The lives of three men killed in a car accident in January will be honored this weekend in a Lanesboro fishing tournament. The three men were friends and enjoyed fishing together as the photo above demonstrates. They are, from left, Andrew Kingsbury, Matthew Erickson and Blake Overland. The Bass Pond Ice Fishing Tournament in Lanesboro has been renamed the Lanesboro Memorial Ice Fishing Tournament. SUBMITTED PHOTO
The annual Ice Fishing Tournament held at the Lanesboro Bass Pond on Feb. 15 will again bring families and friends together for a cold afternoon of outdoor community bonding. The mutual support from such an event is needed.

Organized by the Lanesboro Fire Department, the tournament was started six years ago to help people stay engaged in town, despite the weather. The event has grown in popularity from just a few families to almost 300 people last year.

"It's just a fun day," said fire chief and event organizer Rob Wagner. Three men who enjoyed fishing at the tournament and hanging out together were Blake Overland, Matthew Erickson and Andrew Kingsbury, the three friends who all tragically died in a Jan. 5 automobile accident in Winona.

"Blake never missed one and he brought the other guys the last couple years," Wagner recalled. "They were big into the outdoors and fishing."

It was those memories that inspired event organizers to dedicate this year's tournament to Blake, Matthew and Andrew.

"All three were really nice kids, good workers and would help anyone out," recalled Lanesboro Superintendant Jeff Boggs, who was the high school principal at the time all three friends were in school.

Andrew and Matthew graduated in 2003 and Blake finished high school in 2004. Their friendship continued into their adulthood and one could find them reuniting to hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors together. They created memories that were shared not just among their group, but with their families as well.

"It's something all the boys liked and did together. It's something that gives us good memories," expressed Matthew's father, Steven Erickson, who with his wife, Deborah, see the upcoming ice fishing tournament as an opportunity.

"It's awful hard to say in words what it does mean, but it really helps," he said, adding sentiments of gratitude toward the community for their support.

"The community is unbelievable," added Blake's father, Erik Overland, who along with his wife, Laurie, have organized previous ice fishing tournaments. "They want to help us out in any way they can, phone calls, letters, expressing their sympathy . . . I can't say enough about the community."

The Overlands expressed their appreciation that the tournament has become a memorial for the three guys.

Wagner said he and the other organizers have discussed permanently changing the tournament to become the Memorial Ice Fishing Tournament.

"It's meant to try and honor these guys. We hope it helps with some of the healing process," Wagner added.

Registration for the tournament will run from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Entry fees are $10 for the adult division and $5 for the kids division. The tournament will go from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. One line per person is allowed and a Minnesota fishing license is required. No shacks or portable shelters are allowed.

The event will have food concessions managed by the Lanesboro High School Senior Class, with their proceeds going toward their class trip.

Some money raised from the entry fees goes toward purchasing the prizes for the following year. This year, there are 90 kids' prizes and 130 adult prizes to be given away to those who catch any fish of any size and turn it in. Each fish is measured for the top five prizes, which are given away to the largest fish of each species. Those top prizes are given away at an awards ceremony at 4 p.m. in the Root River Saloon.

The fire department was able to give away two $500 scholarships last year to graduating seniors. Wagner explained that more of the money raised this year will go toward the formation of three $500 scholarships in memory of Andrew, Matthew and Blake.

Another portion of the money raised will be donated to the Winona County Dive Rescue Team, which used up all their funds for 2014 in their search efforts following the accident, along the Mississippi. A fundraising drive for the organization is also occurring among local businesses, with over $300 already generated.

Besides the entry fees, long-sleeved shirts, designed by Kelly Printing and Signs, are being sold for $20 each. They are currently available for order and will also be sold at the tournament. The shirt has a picture of Andrew, Matthew and Blake each holding a fish they caught during one of their trips together.

It captured just one of many memories the boys shared and now, as Erik stated, "It takes on a whole new meaning." The ice fishing tournament, he added, "helps pull the community together."

Just as the memories of Andrew, Blake and Matthew are and will continue to be honored, new memories will be made between other friends at the fishing tournament that will cherished for a lifetime.