A BRIEF HISTORY
Orange County Sportsmen’s Association
Compiled by the late Les Crowley 2001
Edited May 2018
Our Association was established by a group of Orange County residents in 1931 for the good of all concerned. Its first designation was The Panther Club, which was a very successful institution created to relieve tired minds and bodies during the dark days of the Great Depression.
During the year 1933, the Association’s name was changed from The Panther Club to The Florida Sportsmen’s Association. The name was again changed in 1941 to the current Orange County Sportsmen’s Association.
In our early days, game was everywhere. It was not uncommon for a pair of quail hunters to bring in a hundred birds in a one day hunt. There was also an abundance of wild turkey, deer, and ducks.
Fishing was wide open with no size or limit considerations. Black Bass, the greatest fresh water game fish known, was being netted by Commercial Fishermen by the millions of pounds yearly from Florida’s 30,000 fresh water lakes and 4,000 miles of fresh water rivers and sold for four cents a pound.
Our club’s first conservation effort was the “FLORIDA BLACK BASS BILL”. We fought a tough, uphill battle but we finally convinced the State Legislature to pass the bill in 1933. As a result, it is against the law to sell, or buy, Black Bass in the State of Florida. Numerous other legislation, to protect and promote Florida’s native wildlife, has since been written and backed by the Orange County Sportsmen’s Association.
One of our Founders, Merlin Mitchell, served as club President for seven years. He helped in the formation of The Florida Wildlife Federation in 1937. He also wrote, and assisted in the passing, of a Florida Constitutional Amendment creating our present Game and Fresh Water Commission.
Through out the years we have also had to manage through many challenges. Historically, the Butler Chain has often been at extremely low water levels due to below average rainfalls, much like our recent experience in 1999-2001. During one extended dry period, membership dropped so dramatically that it created a severe financial crisis for the club. The Board of Directors came up with a solution to offer Life Memberships to those members financially able to support the Association. The offer was accepted by 100 members and we are here today thanks to them! Fortunately, the lakes come back to life due to hurricanes and above normal rainfalls. Mother Nature has smiled upon us and activities are again back to normal.
During the years 1992 through 1996 the Board of Directors, lead by Les Crowley, Blaine Hensley and Frank Kral, successfully negotiated with the Orange County Commissioners to preserve our private club and independence, continue on-site boat storage, and increase our membership cap which is currently set at 1800.
As a result, the Association has grown and our facility grounds, buildings, ramps, and docks have been expanded, renovated, improved and beautified through the hard work, personal efforts, and dedication of past, and present, volunteer Board of Directors. The outlook is excellent and our goals of Wildlife Conservation, Clean Lakes, Safe Boating and Fishing, Family Recreation, and Preserving Natural Resources will continue.
DATES of HISTORICAL IMPORTANCE
1931 – PANTHER CLUB established.
1933 – FLORIDA BLACK BASS LAW passed.
1937 – Helped organize THE FLORIDA WILDLIFE FEDERATION.
Wrote the Constitutional Amendment and helped pass the FLORIDA GAME & FRESH WATER COMMISSION
1941 – First County Charter. Name changed to ORANGE COUNTY SPORTSMEN’S ASSOCIATION.
1949 – First 5 acres purchased
1953 – Chartered as a Non-Profit, Florida Corporation.
Charter revised to expand membership to 1000 members.
1964 – Second 5 acres purchased
1973 – Charter amended to include “Incorporated”
1973 – OCSA received the “Conservation Organization of the Year Award.” for work in restoring the Butler Chain.
1974 – All prior mortgages paid off!
1974 – Received the “Most Outstanding Conservation Award” from Governor Reubin Askew.
1979 – Past President Frank Kral created the first annual Autistic Children’s Christmas Party for Orange County Schools. The event was held on OCSA grounds from 1979-1999 until it out grew our facilities. We continue to donate to the event every year.
1996 – Concluded successful discussions with Orange County to expand to 1500 members.
2003 – Purchased adjacent 2.5 acre lot with 165 feet of additional lake front.
2003 – Conducted successful discussions with Orange County to expand to 1700 members.
2012 – Opened New Clubhouse.
2015 – Increased membership to 1800 members.
We are proud of this history, our contributions to environmental issues, and in providing the OCSA membership with a unique recreational outlet on the Butler Chain.
Furthermore, we continue to display our civic responsibilities as our current operations provide facilities usage for the Florida Fish and Game Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Natural Resources, Orange County Fire Department Marine Exercises, Orange County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol, Orange County SWAT Team Exercises, Orange County Surveyor’s Office, the Boy Scouts, and the U.S Coast Guard Auxiliary Patrols – all at no cost to these worthwhile organizations.
We welcome this year’s new members and invite you to become part of this club’s legacy.