What a difference out of bounds makes.
In a stunning and dramatic upset Saturday on St. George Island, longtime mullet champ Hunter Bartley, gunning for his sixth straight title and the leader after the regular competition, was unseated in the toss-off by former champ Chip Sanders.
Sanders, who last won the mullet toss a half dozen years ago, had strong back-to-back throws, of 124’ and 132’ to earn a berth in the finals in the 22nd annual competition, held on the beach behind the Blue Parrot Restaurant.
But his best was easily outdistanced by Bartley’s best of 151 ½’ which enabled him to easily sail into the finals.
In his first time competing in the mullet toss, Jody Ledford, 43, from Thomasville, Ga., qualified for the finals with a 124’ throw.
In a last-minute appearance, former champion Robert Wilhoit threw out of bounds, and 120”, to narrowly miss the finals.
Brett Johnson, 30, who had slung the fish 152’ last year to make it to the finals, also had no such luck this year. His one throw was just 91’ and his other sliced out of bounds to the right and struck an onlooker.
“A free pitcher of beer if you get hit,” joked emcee Brian Bowen.
So the stage was set for the toss-off on the hot afternoon, marked by a brisk southeasterly wind. Bowen and George Joanos, the Blue Parrot’s co-owner, had overseen the competition since mid-morning.
In the toss-off, Sanders threw 128’ ½ to take the lead.
Ledford, a former tight end for Georgia Tech, then sliced his throw out of bounds to the right. “The wind kind of caught me,” he said. “It was a rookie mistake.”
Bartley then hooked his throw out of bounds to ensure Sanders’ crown and the $200 first prize.
Bartley said it was his third time losing in the finals after having thrown the farthest in the regular competition. “The mullet tore on me,” he said. “I knew it was gone.”
Bartley raised the question politely as to why the traditional rules governing the toss-off had been set aside this year. “Last year there were two throws. This year we only did one,” he said.
Bartley was gracious in defeat, noting that both he and Sanders live on 13th Street in Apalachicola. “Our street can throw the mullet,” he said. “He’s the man.”
Sanders danced for joy after his victory in the competition, that drew about 30 entrants in the men’s division. “There’s a new sheriff in town,” he said. “I knew I just needed to go out here and win.
“It’s like any sport. I’m just competitive when I get in the sport I don’t let no other man take me down. I don’t care how big they are. You just go out there and be competitive,” Sanders said.
In the women’s category, of about two dozen entrants, Brett’s wife, Carrie Johnson, made up for her husband’s errant throw by winning the women’s competition, and $200, with a throw of 90”. Last year, she took home third place with a throw of a little more than 86’.
Last year’s runner-up, Tallahassee’s Laura Davis, repeated as runner-up with a throw of 88½’ , six feet shorter than her best toss last year. Finishing third was Tallahassee’s Miranda Ard, who threw the fish 85 ½’
In the freestyle category, in which competitors shoot mullet out of a giant tube, powered by compressed air, the team of 5150, which in police code for someone who is crazy and on the loose, won the $100 first prize for a shot of 380‘. That team included Paul Ard, Wesley Jones, Trey Gerking, Hunter Bartley and Michael Luberto. Finishing second for a 329’ propulsion, and winning a grille, was the Ace of Spades team, including Mike Willis, Mark Willis and Rio Shiver. The team of Punkin’ Nuts was third.
In the kids 10-and-under, Apalachicola’s Lamarius “Monk” Martin won the bicycle with a throw of 71’, followed by St. George Island’s Alex Joanos, who threw for 64’. In third place was a young person with the first name of Blake, who pitched the mullet 59’.
Among the 11 to 13 year olds, the winner was Carter Kirkpatrick, from Madison, Ga., with a throw of 95 ½ ‘, with Davis McGee, of St. George Island second with a throw of 88 ½ ‘. In third place was St. George Island’s Nick Joanos, who threw for 83 ½ ‘.
Among the 14 to 16 year olds, the winner was James Durham, from Apalachicola, with a throw of 85 ‘, with Jackson Groom of Thomasville, Ga., with a toss of 82’ In third place was Cole Spivey, from Tallahassee, who threw the fish 75’.
All monies raised by the event go to the Apalachicola Bay Charter School.