For the first time in 86 years, the Wings Over the Prairie Festival, which includes the World's Championship Duck Calling Contest, has been suspended.
It is the latest coronavirus casualty. Bill Free of Stuttgart, longtime chairman of the Wings Over the Prairie Festival, said the contagious nature of the virus and the limitations of coronavirus protocols are simply too much to overcome.
"We probably could have had a scaled-down duck calling championship, but the fact is we just didn't have enough qualifiers to make it a respectable event," Free said.
Duck callers qualify for the World's Championship Duck Calling Contest through a vast series of regional duck calling championships around the nation. Most of those events were canceled, too, so there were very few paths to reach the World's Championship. Only seven or eight people qualified, as opposed to the usual dozens.
This year's qualifiers will automatically qualify for the 2021 World's Duck Calling Championships, Free said.
Even though the duck calling contests are held outdoors, there's always a large elbow-to-elbow crowd. The Midway with all of its rides, games and food trucks are crowded at times, as are the big vendor tents selling knives, belts, buckles, duck calls, art and other merchandise. The same goes for the World's Championship Duck Gumbo Cook-Off, which is also canceled.
Free said that canceling the festival will be a big economic blow to Stuttgart, but the aftershocks will probably extend throughout the 60-day duck season. Some commercial duck lodges already have announced they will not open this season, Free said. Five Oaks Duck Lodge, where Free works as a hunting guide, will run at half capacity. Free said that Five Oaks has worked out the logistics to get hunters in and out of the woods in a manner that enables them to maintain social distance.
Large hunting operations such as Five Oaks host a lot of corporate clients that fly their employees to Arkansas to hunt in Stuttgart. Many clients will suspend corporate hunts this year, Free said, because they do not want to risk exposing their employees to the virus by concentrating them in airports and commercial aircraft.
Youth bass winners
Hunter Spinks and Bailey Spinks, both of Concord, won first place and a $3,000 scholarship in the first Willie Stone Cup Cleburne County 18-Under Scholarship Championship on Saturday at Greers Ferry Lake.
The tournament was open to all youngsters ages 18 and younger enrolled in a Cleburne County school or a school in an adjacent county. Amanda Harrod Brogdon of Heber Springs, a board member for the tournament foundation, said that 22 teams competed for the highest payout ever for an Arkansas high school-level bass tournament.
"Some schools like Heber Springs don't have fishing teams, so we didn't want to tie it to a program that would exclude anybody," Brogdon said. "We even had some home-schoolers participate."
Finishing second were Tanner Fife and Logan Fife, both of Greers Ferry, who won a $2,000 scholarship. Daltyn Cooper and Kenny Stonewalter, both of Tumbling Shoals, finished third and won a $1,000 scholarship. Cooper and Stonewalter, seventh-graders, did not have a boat from which to fish when they entered. A volunteer provided his boat and served as captain.
The scholarship money will be deposited in certificates of deposit where they will draw interest until the winners enroll in college, Brogdon said.
The late Willie Stone was very active in mentoring foster children in Cleburne County, Brogdon said.
"He took 'millions' of foster kids fishing, but he did so much besides that," Brogdon said.
Benefit trap shoot
The Arkansas Baptist Children's Homes & Family Ministries will host the third annual "Pull for Arkansas Families" Trap Shoot on Oct. 23 at the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Shooting Sports Complex in Jacksonville.
The shoot, which will begin at 9 a.m., will raise funds for the Family Care Home in Little Rock for single mothers and their children.
Entry fee for a five-member team is $1,000 and will cover targets, lunch, gift and shooting stations.
For more information on the event or sponsorships, contact Stella Prather at (501) 376-4791, ext. 5168 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To register, call John Ross at (501) 658-5293 or "click Donate now" at Arkansasfamilies.org.