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At the beginning of 2007, the Jonesboro Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #8 decided that we wanted to create some type of community event in which local youth and Law Enforcement Officers could have a positive interaction with one another. We already had Shop With A Cop, but we wanted something bigger and that could reach more children. After tossing around a few ideas, it was decided that we would try to put on Fishing Derby for local youth. This would be an event we could do in the summer to get kids outside, give them a chance to experience the sport of fishing as well as interact with Officers and the whole Family could be involved.
After several months of two to three FOP members planning with the Arkansas Game Fish Commission, the City of Jonesboro Parks and Recreation Department and some local businesses, we were all set for our first Fishing Derby in July of 2007. The Derby was held at the youth pond at Craighead Forest Park in Jonesboro and it was open to children ages 0-15. We had around fifty prizes to give away, a couple of bicycles to sign up to win, some trophies for age division winners and we had six tagged fish worth $100 each in the pond waiting to be caught. We grilled hot dogs, passed out chips and had sodas and water for everyone who attended. It went really well and all of the kids and Officers had a great time together! It was decided that we had found our event and that it would be held annually every summer.
Over the next several years, the event got bigger and better. We had to form a Fishing Derby Committee of three to six members, assign tasks and start planning and working on things about four months in advance of Derby Day. The committee was able to get enough donations to make sure every child was going to get a prize, food and drinks. They were also able to get a few more bicycles to give away and continue doing the six tagged fish that were worth $100 each if caught. Then it happened, the Fishing Derby finally outgrew the pond.
Around 2012-2013 we had almost 300 kids show up and register for the Derby! With such a large number of kids registering, it took a long time to complete the needed paperwork and get them down to the pond. Then once it was time to start fishing, it became difficult to find a good spot to sit around the pond, lines were getting tangled and it was hard to get a good cast. The Derby Committee had to make a tough decision, find a new location to accommodate the growing Derby or scale back. After looking into several different locations, it was determined moving was not an option. In 2014 the Derby Committee made some changes. The participation ages were changed to 3-15 and the registration process was also streamlined by combining all information we needed into one piece of paper and making a carbon copy form for each age division. This cut out time standing in line and having to fill out several different things before being able to make your way down to the pond. A little over 200 kids were registered at the 2014 Derby and the changes worked out great for everyone. Registration went faster and the pond was less congested. The committee also added measuring stations in four different locations around the pond. This made it quicker and easier for the kids to get their fish measured, recorded and get back to fishing. Thanks to the generosity of the community and our FOP sponsors, we were able to not only assure that each child would get some sort of prize, but we also now had a boy and a girl bicycle for each age division and three 32 inch flat screen TV’s to give away to the kids. Not to mention, we still had the six tagged fish worth $100 each.
Since the changes in 2014, the Derby runs like clockwork each year. The Derby Committee plans for 250 kids to register and for about 500 people to be at the event each year. It takes a committee of three to six members about three months to prepare for the Derby. The average cost of the Derby is now about $4,000 each year. This includes the cost of six bicycles, three television’s, nine trophies, approximately three hundred prizes, food, drinks, food supplies, tagged fish payouts, registration materials and supplies, replacement of tables, coolers, tents and storage tubs if needed and gas reimbursements for committee members.
The 2017 Fishing Derby marked our 10th anniversary. At the event, we had 180 children registered with 75 fish caught. There were a total of nine trophies awarded per age group for smallest fish, largest fish and the most fish caught. We did have two of our tagged fish caught. It was a great event marking a decade of bringing youth and law enforcement together.