Boy reels in prize winning fish, denied award

Garett Stephens, 12

(KATV) The mother of a 12-year old Mountain View boy says her son was embarrassed after winning a fishing competition and then told he wasn't eligible. The Hooked on Fishing event was sponsored by the middle school. The winner, Garett Stephens is home schooled. The principal is now getting backlash for the way he handled the situation.

Garett volunteered to help. He was offered the opportunity to fish and reeled in at 26.5 inch catfish, the largest in his age group.

Garett Stephens, his siblings and a friend are schooled at his family home. The flexible schedule gives him opportunities - like volunteering at a four day fishing derby. He says, "I tied hooks, smashed sinkers, fix poles and made sure they were not tangled."

The pond is stocked by the Game and Fish Commission for the public. A school employee who knows the Stephens family asked a coworker if Garett could participate in the school event, with school equipment.

Garett was excited, "I knew most of the people so I got to fish with them. It was fun. The fish got a hold of the hook and it took me a minute to reel it in. I thought the line was going to snap."

Before the bike and gift certificates were handed out, Principal Robert Ross informed Garett he was not qualified. Garett says, "Very embarrassed, I was really embarrassed."

Garett explains, "He said if you have not figured it out, homeschoolers cannot win prizes in this contest. If we let you win first place there will be a bunch of other homeschoolers wanting to come next year."

Principal Ross says, " I was unaware the young man was here."

Ross says most awards are purchased by the school and Garett was reportedly already fishing while the students were in safety orientation. "He actually caught the fish before the other students got to the pond. That in itself, a public school student would have been disqualified."

Ross adds, "The last thing we want to do is hurt a kid, that's why we have this program to help kids."

Ross says he has reached out to the Stephens family to have a meeting and put this behind them on a positive note.

One thing that can't be taken away from Garrett, bragging rights, "I guess everybody knows that I caught the biggest fish." He was allowed to take the fish home.

After technically being stripped of the title, Garett continue to show up to volunteer. He clocked in 35 hours of community service for the Mountain View School District.

The Tim Tebow bill goes into effect next school year. It will allow home schooled kids to participate in public school sports and activities.