Keeping tradition, the 277 or so sixth graders at Frank Mitchell Intermediate School in Vilonia, participated in a fishing derby, Tuesday, at the Camp Robinson Firing Range.
The students may have not realized at the time they were making history, according to Grant Tomlin, manager of the firing range. This year’s Vilonia sixth graders were the first allowed to fish in a new pond dedicated to youth fishing derbies.
The new pond sits in the middle of the archery range and can only be used by the public during hours when the range is not in use. Several targets including those simulating antelope, deer and turkeys, could be seen. Their presence appeared to make the experience even more interesting for the young outdoorsman. Also, an alligator, named Fred, sunning on the pond’s manmade island surprised some of the visitors. Many had to take a second look to determine it was merely a target.
“It does look real,” Tomlin said. In fact, it looks so real, it fooled some of the range maintenance workers when it was first installed, he added.
In preparation for the derby, Tomlin said the pond was stocked with about 500 fish. During the event, volunteers manned stations where students could take their catch for weigh in and processing in preparation to take home. Or, they had the option to release back into the pond. Many of the students showed excitement when they felt a tug on their hook. Student Noah Powers said it was his first catch “ever in his life.”
Sponsored by the Arkansas Game and Fish, Get Hooked on Fishing Not on Drugs program, coordinator Dawn Cook, was on hand, visiting and sharing information. By being a member of the program’s fishing club, the school was given 30 fishing rods. Also, the program provided the other rods for use during the derby.
When the students weren’t fishing, there were other events taking place including Bingo and a Scavenger Hunt, casting demonstrations, programs on hydration awareness and the dangers of alcohol and tobacco use. Several parents helped with the event as well as Vilonia’s East students.
Teacher Jodi Brewer said this is the fifth year in a row the students have been participating. Yet, the tradition of the fishing derby, for the sixth graders, dates back many years. It was discontinued for a few years, she said. She can remember, however, that she came about 20 years ago when she was a sixth grader in Vilonia—a memory she cherishes.