History of the Tuna Challenge

Image of Tuna Challenge historyThe Tuna Challenge’s humble beginnings date back to 1990 when it began as an intra-club tuna tournament. The Kona Kai Anglers created the tournament to bring some friendly competition to the revived Anglers organization with Frank Baptista and Jim Nicoletti deserving much of the credit for founding the Tuna Challenge. Two years later, the tournament became an invitational event with fishing clubs from all over San Diego participating. In 1994, the Kona Kai Anglers decided that they wanted to donate the proceeds of the tournament to a charitable organization and the Make-A-Wish Foundation was chosen to be the beneficiary.

The tournament initially raised $800 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but the amount steadily increased to $6000-$8000 over the next few years, with 30-50 boats fishing each year.

In 2000, Gordon Hadfield chaired the committee and brought John & Judy Collins in to help the Tuna Challenge bring in a record $36,000 with 56 boats participating. With the increasing tournament size and a grass roots effort from a small contingent of Kona Kai Anglers, a decision was made to find a co-host for the 2001 tournament. Southwestern Yacht Club Anglers graciously accepted the partnership and produced a whopping $76,000 for the cause. Sam Minervini, largely responsible for keeping the tournament alive in its early years, joined Southwestern’s Harry Okuda in chairing the tournament. A record 113 boats fished the tournament with 500 people attending the awards banquet.

In 2002, Silver Gate Yacht Club joined the Kona Kai Anglers to co-host the 13th annual Make-A-Wish Tuna Challenge. Ken Morris ably led this collaborative effort which raised over $93,000 and welcomed 139 boats with 500 anglers aboard. This year, Tuna Challenge became the largest tuna tournament in the continental United States. 650 people participated in the post-tournament banquet extravaganza held at Silver Gate Yacht Club.

The 2003 Tuna Challenge raised over $129,000 – breaking all previous records, and exceeding all expectations. The 2004 tournament produced even more fantastic results. An incredible 152 boats with 567 anglers had perfect weather and fabulous fishing. Almost 800 people were treated to the wonderful tuna feast at the post-tournament Gala Awards Banquet. Jeanne Irwin and her dedicated committee were thrilled to help raise a monumental $185,000 to grant the wishes of 30 children in the San Diego County area. For the first time, we actually funded two special wishes as part of our live auction at the banquet.

The 2005 Tuna Challenge was a tremendously exciting event. We raised a phenomenal $300,000! Carolyn Morris and her dynamic committee hosted 1,000 guests at the Tuna Challenge Banquet and 536 anglers fished on 133 boats.

The 2006 Committee, lead capably by Jim Walsh, exceeded the success of the year before, raising $301,000 with 614 anglers fishing on 128 private boats and 2 sport boats.

The 2007 Tuna Challenge saw the biggest Tuna Challenge ever - $360,000 was raised under the leadership of chair Tom Drake. 128 private boats, three sport boats and 597 anglers participated. Tom continued to chair the committee in 2008 and with the economy taking a downturn, was still able to raise $310,000. Participation slowed over the next few years but Tom and his committee were still able to raise an incredible $260,000 in 2009. With Wayne Kotow joining him as co-chair in 2010, the committee saw 388 anglers on 92 registered boats and raised $250,000, helping Tuna Challenge raise $1,180,000 during Tom’s 4 year tenure.

The 2011 Tuna Challenge saw our smallest turnout in years but managed to put on a fantastic event. 372 anglers on 83 boats fished the tournament and almost 900 people attended the banquet on Sunday, September 11th, the 10th anniversary of the worst attack on U.S. soil. After a solemn tribute to those that had fallen, a great time was had by all who attended and a total of $185,000 was raised for the year.

The 2012 Tuna Challenge saw an even smaller turnout but amazing fund raising results. Not long after the committee said goodbye to our friend and fellow committee member Marty Morris, 298 anglers on 60 boats, along with the almost 800 people who attended the banquet, helped raise over $210,000!

The 2013 tournament saw 287 anglers signed up on 68 boats. Rough seas and sparse fishing did not diminish the mood at the banquet as we raised over $185,000 to grant even more wishes.

Since 1994, Tuna Challenge has raised over $2,920,000 to grant the wishes of children with life threatening medical conditions. That’s a lot of wishes! Now more than ever, with your help and support, we know that our able committee members will be able to grant even more wishes in the years to come!

Important 2019 Dates

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2019 Tournament Form

Volunteers Needed

Every year Tuna Challenge is made possible with the support of generous volunteers, from the awards banquet and fileting fish to collecting donations and much, much more. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer then please contact volunteers@tunachallenge.org.