Mountain View Home Schooler Catches Fish, Loses Bicycle

When 12-year-old Garrett Stephens reeled in a 26.5 inch catfish, he was thrilled at the prospect of winning first place in the Hooked on Fishing competition sponsored by Mountain View Middle School. Garrett’s hopes were dashed, however, when school principal Robert Ross told him that he was not eligible to win because he was a home schooler. Garrett’s mother, Amanda Stephens, said that Coach Randal Story had given permission for Garrett to fish. “Garrett was embarrassed,” she said.

The event was sponsored by the school in Mountain View, Arkansas as a part of a statewide tax-funded effort by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to help kids discover the joy of fishing and stay off drugs. The competition was held at a fishing pond near the school. Each grade of middle schoolers took turns spending an entire day fishing at the pond, starting with fifth-graders on Monday, April 30, and finishing with eighth-graders on Thursday, May 2. The school owns and maintains fishing equipment for use by students. The pond is stocked by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and is open to the public with certain restrictions.

School Custodian Jimmy Lawrence volunteers to maintain the school’s fishing equipment, and he takes care of baiting hooks, untangling lines, and other duties when students are allowed to go to the pond to fish.

Spending all day taking care of nearly 100 middle schoolers with fishing rods can be challenging. That’s why Lawrence got permission to ask Garrett, a sixth grade home schooler, to serve as a volunteer helper from 6:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. each day of the competition. Custodian Lawrence befriended Garrett at Faith Tabernacle Apostolic Church where Garrett’s father has been a pastor for eight years. Garrett seemed to be the ideal volunteer since he was available to help during school hours, he could earn community service hours, and have a little fun fishing in the warm springtime weather.

Parents of students and other family members were invited to come out for the day. The local Sonic Drive-In furnished refreshments. At the end of each day, prizes were awarded for the three largest fish.

Since Tuesday was the day for sixth-graders to fish, custodian Lawrence thought it would be nice if Garrett, a sixth-grader himself, could take a break from his volunteer duties to fish. Coach Story, a faculty member at the school who was helping with the competition, agreed to allow Garrett to fish.

Garrett was elated when, just as the competition began, he reeled in a huge 26.5 inch catfish. Garrett’s fish was measured and cataloged. He held first place all day until minutes before the awarding of prizes when school principal, Robert Ross, intervened. He explained that he had been meaning to come over and tell Garrett that because he is a home schooler he would not be eligible to win any prizes. Garrett was disappointed and embarrassed, to say the least. Garrett said the principal was concerned that allowing Garrett to win might prompt other home schoolers to want to fish also.

At the end of the day, Garrett’s fish was the largest one caught, but he didn’t win the first-place prize of a new bicycle and a gift certificate, nor did he get his picture in the local paper. He stood and watched first-prize go to someone else who caught a smaller fish. According to Garrett’s mother, Custodian Lawrence was more disappointed than Garrett. Garrett said to Lawrence, “Come on Jimmy, let’s go fishing and get this off our minds.” She said that the prizes would have been nice, but, more so, she would like for Garrett to be recognized as the one who caught the largest fish.

Even though Garrett didn’t get the bicycle, the gift certificate, or his picture in the local paper, he did get to keep the fish and bragging rights. He returned to the competition each day to fulfill his volunteer duties that totaled over 30 hours of volunteer service to the Mountain View School District.

35 comments on this post.
  1. Joanna Dowlearn:

    State-wide, tax- funded endeavor means ANY and ALL school aged children in that district should be eligible; as homeschoolers we still pay taxes for schools, we still pay state taxes. Since there was no rule regarding the matter before hand and the Child had been given express permission to participate by Coach Randal, Principal Ross should have made good on the award then he could have set to drafting more specific rules for such future events but as it stands Mr. Ross should be absolutely ashamed of his actions, especially waiting until the last minute to inform the child; inconsiderate and unprofessional. It is for reasons such as this that we have no interest in dealing with the PSS AT ALL. As for Garrett, what a stellar example of commitment and hard work as he stuck with his volunteerism despite the rude treatment he received; kudos to him and also to Mr. Lawrence for his thoughtfulness as well as to Ms. Stephens for raising a child with this type of integrity.

  2. Jason:

    Wonder how a person could donate a prize to this little boy? To give him reconition for the monster fish he has caught?

  3. KatieB:

    To the parent of the second place winner who got first prize: If I had been there I would have made my child give the prize to the rightful winner –right in front of the principal. Don’t teach your child to win something he didn’t really win.

    And yes, I would like to also donate toward a prize to the REAL winner.
    If this contest was to promote fishing and keep kids off drugs, why wouldn’t a home schooled kid be allowed to participate? Mr. Principal, are you saying that you don’t care if home schooled kids like to fish and stay off drugs? Or are you just a stickler for making sure your own school continues to suck us dry without us receiving any of the benefits from our tax dollars? God forbid any home schooled kids should receive any benefit from the dollars we send to the state for education. Right?

  4. Katrina:

    I am so sorry this happened to Garrett. Tears came to my eyes when I read what an honorable thing he did by continuing to volunteer everyday despite what happened. How proud his parents must be of his Godly attitude. Homeschoolers often have to face these types of things but I wouldn’t change our decision to homeschool for anything. Everything is a learning expereince and something God will use to strengthen Garrett’s character. If you would email me a contact address, I would love to send him a small “prize”. ksully@adiacapital.com

  5. Dorothy:

    Home schoolers deserve the right to be able to do hooked on fishing the same as kids in public school. Especially since he had put in so much time volunteering to help the public school kids. It’s like he’s being treated as a second rate citizen because he’s homeschooled. A homeschool kid being a slave to a public school program. That’s ironic.

  6. marj anderson:

    Unfair discrimination against homeschooler.They pay taxes too.Years ago my parents paid for private church school & school taxes too.Shame on the principal for not being more forward thinking.One would think the Game & Fish People would be more considerate as well.

  7. Katrina:

    I hate for the Game & Fish people to be blamed too much for this one. The have always been very supportive of things in Hot Springs. They are willing to stock fish ponds if we want to have fishing tournaments and they are very supportive of events at our local library which is very kind to homeschoolers. I think it was just an unfortunate, uncomfortable situation due to the principal’s poor decision.

  8. Lindy:

    Okay, I’m okay with gathering together a fundraiser to get this little boy an even better bike! I just need a way to find out how to give it to his parents. I have found his mother’s name in the article, but not sure how to contact them. If anyone knows, please let me know and there are tons of people I know who are wanting to buy this little boy a bike!

  9. Jennifer:

    His mom name is Amanda and his Dad name is Daniel Stephens really good people. His dad pastor the churchbehind the shell station. Garrett grandmas number is 18702695110 and his dad number is 8702136700.I hope this helps you out.

  10. Kim:

    The church’s address is 107 S Riggsville drive, Mtn. view, At 72936. Having lived in this community for 14 yes (home educating most of that time) I am not the least surprised. I am so very proud of this young man. What a testimony of why many home school in the first place. I delivered my oldest to Mr. Ross in the 6th grade. At that time, I told him I had prepared and matured a student with the character to begin her public school education. He often complemented me for her wisdom and character. I hope he will learn from this what integrity truly is.

  11. David Potts:

    Isn’t it interesting that 6th grade home schooler has more character and integrity than the principal of a public school? Isn’t that really why we choose to home school after all?

  12. Brad Griffith:

    The whole school district needs a gigantic enema . Which would certainly send “Rowdy” Ross and his ilk down the sewer. Should the story be true this outfit has sank to a new low . It seems to me that are more worried about sports and are totally obsessed with building , paving and any other activity that will allow them to spend my tax dollars like water over a dam. Less of course the spending would have to do with the band or music as we all know the chances are great that one of the football playing darlings will be drafted right in the the NFL therefore they really need every luxury known to mankind . Never mind that the band has no where to preform and kids have to share books for some classes and not allowed to take them home to use to study ( I learned last year) the whole school system is sick and has lost its moral compass . If MR. Ross did not have the reason ability to award the bicycle to the youngster who truly caught the biggest fish as the rules indicated then why on gods green earth are we trusting his judgment to run the school??????? .

  13. lyn:

    The dates are wrong. 8th grade hooked on fishing was Monday, May 6. I hope the rest of the article is accurate.

  14. Fanny Ritter:

    I lovw in mtn view and i know this boy personally and he diea deserve the prize if anyone is intrested in donating a priz to the boy you can contact pastor daniel stephens its in the phone book or information thanks…

  15. Charlene Barr:

    I feel for the principal and the public school children concerning the prize to a home schooler. But what is wrongiwith the Home Schooler’s having a fishing day on their own property , the Mountain View School fishing pond??

  16. Marti:

    It is my understanding that all home schooled students are eligible to participate in activities, sports, band etc, that are school related. This helps obtain classes that are electives and helps with social interaction. Since this is a Game and Fish organized project how can the school really say anything? Everyone pays taxes even parents of the home schooled.
    So many children are being treated badly in schools these days, by the teachers and principals.

  17. Charlene Barr:

    I feel for the principal and the public school children regarding the giving of the prize to Stephens. But what is wrong with having a home Schooler’s fishing day on their own property, the Mountain View School fishing pond?

  18. casey widmeyer:

    im glad to see local familys down there stepping up for this,,i think that prinicple needs a talking too or a lesson in embarasment,,and yes if it was funded he is and was eligable to win those prizes as i said the principle needs a major talking to,,he had no right to do that to that child,,i hope this little boy gets his ride,,he caught a 26.5 fish is impressive in my book,,i fish and i am never lucky enough to catch one like that,,,i pray to the lord this principle gets what he deserves a swift kick in the ass,,

  19. Paul Baker:

    I home schooled three children. Two of them from grade school thru high school. The third went to a private high school. As a home owner I pay taxes every year. A portion of those taxes are for the school district. If they are going to exclude home schooled or private schooled children from such activities, then I would like an exclusion on my taxes.

  20. Danita:

    I watched the 6:00 news on channel 7 tonight and that principle had to cover his butt and said that Garrett started fishing before he was suppose to, are u kidding me principle Ross, you’re just making excuses to cover your butt!! What if that was your child, what would you do then?

  21. Veronica:

    I home school my children in the Mtn View school district. The actions of Mr Ross only reinforces why we chose to do so. KUDOS to Garrett, you are an amazing young man. I think that next year the home schoolers of Stone County need to go fishing… Just my opinion..

  22. Blair Tinkle:

    But I saw his picture in the paper this week, what do you mean he did not get the credit where credit was due? I know the boy who was in place behind him, and he told me that the Stephens boy won the bike and saw him take it back to wal mart for store credit.

  23. Joshua T.:

    Daniel and Amanda should be very proud of thier son. This young man is the result of good Godly parenting. It hurts me to know that a trusted authority figure over our kids could be so mean. I understand that there may be certain rules, but I am also sure that there are exceptions. Discrimination, plain and simple. I was supportive of Mr. Ross, but this has really lowered my opinion of him as an educator and as a person.

  24. Dale Yost:

    Shows how a principle made up the rules as he wanted. what a a__Hole, not all principles are that way, most are very upstanding citizens.

  25. Jennifer:

    Blair you need to go to katv.com and read about the 12 year old boy that caught the prize winning fish.

  26. katie:

    what makes anyone think that homeschoolers are below public schoolers?? do you know how many famous inventors, presidents, successful business owners etc. were homeschooled? People who homeschooling pay taxes that help fund public schools, what do parents of public schoolers do to help homeschoolers? Nothing the pay out of pocket to buy those expensive books and supplys to school their children. Stop being selfish and egotistical. We are all people. Can’t we just get along!!!???

  27. Ann:

    Blair the stephens boy did not receive the bicyle so therefore he could not have returned it to the store for store credit. And as for the picture of him being in the newspaper, I am sure that the school did not put that in the paper but rather his friends or family. :) Makes you wander how many other instances like this is swept under the rug by MV school district.

  28. Dale Yost:

    I sucessfuly reorted to CNN see if it makes national news

  29. Dale Yost:

    *reported

  30. Dale Yost:

    I think the principle needs the honors

  31. May T-B:

    That is not right. the child with the biggest fish should win the competition. How can we teach the students if we don’t do the right thing!

  32. Kristi (Trammell) Harris:

    Whether he won a bike or not, he still is a winner in God’s eyes and mine. Life isn’t always fair and how we react in those time is a good indicator of our true character. Kudos to true Godly parents that know the value of this, and to Garret and Jimmy for “grace under fire”.

    I also agree with above comments…homeschool parents get no break on their taxes, have to buy all their own curriculum, and usually get none of the perks offered to educators ( such as store discounts, etc. ). It really isn’t fair at all, but it is more important to us to give our children a Godly education than to throw them into a pool of values we don’t always agree with.

    I was a graduate of the Mtn. View Public School system and it was great, but “times they are a changin’ ” . I moved away and chose to homeschool my children rather than send them to strangers to be taught who knew what. Homeschoolers should not be looked down upon for that decision.

  33. blair:

    Please forgive my honest mistake, I spoke in error when I made my statement. I remembered the name Garrett but had a wrong last name to go with my story. In that sense, I admit my mistake and ask anyone who was hurt by my statements forgiveness. As for the school throwing a fit over a “home-schooled” kid winning the competition, well they need to get over it. Award should go to best fisherman or fisherwoman. I agree with you Ann, what else happens that is not reported?

  34. Cyndi:

    This is so sad. I lived in Mt View and attended the 8th and 9th grade there. As an adult I home schooled my children for a total of 14 years. Home School Legal Defense at HSLDA.org is your best friend. And the statement “Garrett said the principal was concerned that allowing Garrett to win might prompt other home schoolers to want to fish also.” So what if other home schoolers want to fish. They have the right to. Check the law.

  35. CHARLES:

    the game and fish sign explains the rules to fish in the pond. it says nothing about mountain view school having the right to make any decision who is allowed to use it.
    I can not believe how cold hearted this action was. the principle should have to buy the boy a bicycle out of his own pocket.