In an unusual series of upsets of the finest in local fish pitchers, a couple from central Georgia dominated both the men’s and women’s competition in Saturday’s 23rd annual Mullet Toss on St. George Island.
Not long after 19-year-old Ashley Stevenson captured the women’s competition with a throw of nearly 102”, her boyfriend, 22-year-old Will Thomas, made it look easy as he bested six-time champion Hunter Bartley on his first throw in the men’s competition toss-off.
Thomas nearly beaned a passing seagull when he flung the fish 151’ 4” before the large crowd gathered on the beach behind the Blue Parrot Restaurant. His throw, while nearly 13 feet shorter than the massive 164’ pitch that put him in the lead during the regular competition, was still a good four feet further than Bartley’s 147’ 5” effort in the toss-off.
Finishing in third place was returning champion Chip Sanders, whose first attempt was nullified because he had crossed the starting line, and his second soared 120’4”, at least eight inches shorter than his winning toss in 2013.
The throwers during the regular portion of the men’s competition were a strong field,
Apalachicola’s Brett Johnson, who had slung the fish 152’ two years ago to make it to the finals, got on the leader board with a 137’ 2” toss. “The fish was hot and flimsy, it had been sitting out for a while,” he said. “When you throw them, they get mushy.”
But a 146’ 4” throw from local Seth Rogers, Blake Means’ 144’ 3” toss and a 139’ 9” throw from a visitor Rock Robbins, ousted Johnson from the finals. Bradley Bracewell, from Live Oak, got close, with a 136’ toss, and Carey Nofzinger, with 136’, but they weren’t enough.
Sanders made it in to the toss-off with back-to-back impressive throws, of 141’ 6” and then 149’ 7”. Thomas had the day’s best, a 164’ throw, to qualify, while Bartley threw 149’ 7” to make it to the toss-off.
Thomas, of Dexter, Georgia, who netted $200 for his winning throw, played shortstop for three years for the Armstrong Atlantic State University Pirates, out of Savannah, Georgia. He earned a bachelor’s degree in health administration, and now plans a career as a physical therapist.
His girlfriend, Stevenson, 19, of Rentz, Georgia, played high school softball, and now attends Georgia College and State University. They stayed on the island last week as part of a family trip that included Stevenson’s sister Casey Stevenson; her parents Larry and Trini Stevenson; and her aunt and uncle, Robin and John Loden, of Telfair County, Georgia.
While it was Thomas’ first time tossing the mullet, she had tried it a few years earlier.
“I just chunked it,” she said, just before the Blue Parrot’s co-owner George Joanos presented her with the $200 prize money.
Stevenson’s 101’ 10” toss was nearly five feet farther than Carrie Johnson’s 96’ throw, a personal best. In the last three years, Johnson has thrown for the cycle, taking a first place last year with a 90’ throw, and a third place the year before with a throw of a little more than 86’.
Johnson missed Stevenson’s winning toss, as she was tending to her daughter Averie and son Easton at the crowded beach. “My son wanted to wash his hands off,” she said, adding that she was pleased at the extensive competition.
“That’s my kids’ school they’re raising money for,” said Johnson. Funds raised by the annual event go to the Apalachicola Bay Charter School.
Winning the 14-to-16 year-old age group was St. George Island’s Davis McGee, who threw for 130’ 9”, considerably better than 88’ foot that got him second place last year.
Brett Parker, 12, of Elkmont, Alabama, won the 11 to 13 age group with a toss of 110’ 6” while Garrett Ledford, 10, from Thomasville, Georgia, won the 10-and-under age group with a throw of 71’ 8”.
While the field of throwers was robust this year, about 150 total, there were no competitors in the freestyle category, in which competitors shoot mullet out of a giant tube, powered by compressed air.