The oldtimers from Apalachicola, Eastpoint and Carrabelle that used to battle it out hurling mullets down the St. George Island beach were no longer there.
Hunter Bartley, Chip Sanders, Dillon Grant, nowhere around.
Instead vacationers from Kentucky, and Tennessee and North Carolina waited in line to throw at the 32nd annual Mullet Toss Saturday at the Blue Parrot restaurant.
Young men eager to show their strength took their chances, and dads wanting to impress their kids, and giggling schoolgirls to cheer them on, and toddlers perplexed as to why they are throwing a fish and not catching it, they were all there.
Restaurateur George Joanos handed out the mullets, as he has done for years, and Heather Rash, wife of restaurant owner Steve Rash, who sat peaceably looking on, was busily roping in the volunteers. They handed out t-shirts, or attended to registrations, with the proceeds going to Franklin’s Promise. Ronnie Randolph did the announcing.
But there was a generational shift going on, with the Rashes’ daughter Edie signing people up, and Carson Dennis keeping the leaderboard, and other friends all pitching in to help Ronnie Wallace and others handle the event.
This is the kind of thing Loismay Provenzano, now Collier, used to do, but she’s married now with a 6-month-old daughter Rosie, working her feeding in around her mullet toss.
Collier did what she had to do, defending her title by winning the women’s division, but not by much.
Her 78-foot throw edged out by a mere four inches the runner-up from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Alexis Gaylor, who toted home a portable wagon cooler, courtesy of one of the beverage distributors that keep the Blue Parrot crowd from going dry. Third place Heather Merritt took back to Tallahassee a Coors Lite cooler.
The littlest kids opened the festivities by competing, most of them pleased at any throw unless it was backwards or out of bounds. Which did happen, mainly with the adults.
Then it was time for age 11 to 13, and that was a solid win for 12-year-old Asher Allen, who plays travel ball back in Carrollton, Georgia, who threw it 107 feet, 9 inches, a good 20 feet further than runner-up Dylan Stith, 13, from Tallahassee. Asa Tupper, 13, from Viola, Tennessee, was about a foot further back to take third.
Hayden Grover, a tall 15-year-old from Lynnville, Tennessee, took home the bicycle for winning the 14 to 17 age bracket, tossing the fish 98 feet, 7 inches.
In this age group, the girls, like Ava Brown, Noelle Bowman and Emily Rosenfeld, from Atlanta, were shooting for hitting the target spots. Rosenfeld ended up flopping one in for a cheeseburger, which she plans to split with her buds.
Where this reporter wrote down the names of the second and third place winners among these teenagerss was soaked into illegibility by the squall that blew in and forced a crowd into the t-shirt tent. But it was clear skies within the hour, when it was time for the women.
Collier took home the prize, but it was a prized moment for Jessica Stringer, from Boston, Georgia, who spent considerable time breading her fish with sand before her two throws.
Stringer, at 37, completed her last treatment for thyroid cancer two weeks ago, and through her breathy husky voice and behind a radiant smile, she shared her uplifting prognosis.
Mary Daigle, from Woodstock, Georgia, offered a downbeat explanation for why she hadn’t won a burger or a pitcher of beer. “They made that square so small,” she said.
The men’s competition saw decent distances, about 10 feet shy of the winning throws of the last several years, but headwinds had a lot to do with that on the blustery afternoon.
As assistants Seth Silva and 4-year-old Ariel handed the fish to her Papou, it was time for the men, and lots threw in their lot, including the Rashes’ son Bennett, who did well at 101 feet 7 inches, but not enough to make the toss-off.
Perry Finley, from Louisville, who had been in the winners circle in the past, threw 110 feet, also just shy of making the finals.
Those spots were reserved for Ben Kampf, 43, of Tallahassee, who went into the toss-off the leader with a throw of 118 feet 7 inches.
Ethan Gruver, 20, from Atlanta was the next qualifier, with a throw of 117 feet. Three inches behind that, and securing the third spot, was the lone local representative, Omar Harris.
In the toss-off, Kampf threw for 106 feet 5 inches, more than 12 feet shorter than his qualifying throw. This set the stage for Gruver to eclipse his earlier toss, hurling the mullet 120 feet 9 inches.
Harris threw out a pair of better than 100-foot throws, but his best, 106 feet, was not enough to deny Gruver, a powerlifter who can bench 245 pounds, the top prize money of $200, the same amount as for the women, possibly due to Title IX concerns.
Kampf took home a Natural Light cooler, and Harris a golf bag.
There was one competitor in the freestyle division, a trio that featured Molly Foster, from Lafayette, Louisiana, pulling back the slingshot, and Thomas Misinco, from Ackworth, Georgia, and Stephanie Cockrell, from Woodstock, Georgia, holding the sticks.
The fish did not go nearly as far as the day’s fun did.
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