Volunteer spotlight: Mark Luciani mans the 'big board' at Rodeo
Editor's note: For the next few weeks, The Destin Log will be highlighting in the Saturday editions people in our community who voluntarily offer themselves for service around town.
When Mark Luciani moved to Destin three years ago, he didn't waste any time getting involved in the community.
His choice of service was to volunteer with the Destin Fishing Rodeo, Destin's oldest tradition.
Luciani, 68, who moved here from Charlotte, North Carolina, has been fishing in Destin the past 20 to 25 years. About 10 years ago, he bought a condo in Destin and when he retired from the corporate world he decided to make Destin his home.
"It's always good to volunteer and do community service wherever you live," Luciani said.
"I'm going to live here now ... this is my final resting place. It's a great way to network and meet a lot of people," he said.
Luciani started as a volunteer judge with the Rodeo, recording information as the weighmaster calls out the species and weight of the fish entries. He also has served on the Rodeo rules committee and now he's in charge of the "big board."
The big board, or the main leaderboard for the Rodeo that lists the current leaders in the various divisions, is a big task and is constantly being updated as fish entries come to the scales.
Luciani said he was recruited to do the big board by Tim Broom of Half Hitch Tackle, who also serves on the Rodeo board of directors.
"Tim Broom and I are friends and we started talking and I got involved ... so here I am," Luciani said. "He told me I would be taking care of the big board."
The first day of the 72nd annual Destin Fishing Rodeo was extremely busy with 155 fish entries, the most ever on opening day.
"The first day was crazy, but that's part of the fun of it," Luciani said. "I kind of figured it would be crazy because every fish that came in was going to get weighed in because the board was wide open."
With almost two weeks under his belt, Luciani said, "It's been keeping me busy ... I should have negotiated a better contract with Mr. Broom.
"But I enjoy being down here. (Rodeo Executive Director Helen Donaldson) has been great, everybody involved with the Rodeo is great," he said.
Donaldson said she is glad to have Luciani on board.
"He's been a godsend," she said. "We found ourselves without an assistant down on the barge and he just jumped right in and has been awesome."
And Luciani is enjoying his time on the Rodeo barge.
"I actually like talking to the mates and captains that come off their boats ...," he said. "Let's face it, people come from all over to fish here, and most of them are used to bass fishing back home. But this is a bigger pond and the fish pull a whole lot harder."
Luciani used to be one of those bass fishermen.
He fished Bassmasters for 15 years and served as a guide on multiple lakes in Georgia and North Carolina.
When he retired, he went to captain's school to get his license.
"Whether I was going to use the captain's license or not to do anything, I just wanted to do it for a personal accomplishment," he said.
Now he has a 25-foot center console boat that he fishes on, plus he has a few people who hire him to run their boats and take them fishing.
"I enjoy doing that," he said.
He drives anything from a 42-foot Pursuit to a 38-foot Fountain and loves doing it.
But the thing Luciani said he enjoys most is taking young children fishing, teaching them and watching them catch their first fish.
"I'd much rather spend a day on a boat with a mom and dad and two kids than five grown men," he said.
But most of all, he enjoys time on the boat with his 5-year-old grandson, Dalton.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Luciani got to spend a lot of quality time with his grandson on the boat.
Earlier this week, Luciani was able to take some children out Rodeo fishing and they caught a few mackerel and a small grouper.
"To me, it's rewarding to have kids that are enthusiastic about trying to get their first big fish," he said.