STUTTGART — Saturday’s steady downpour did not deter the 76th annual World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest, as Antonio Jones of White Hall was crowned the world champion.
Jones beat out a field that included 2010 champion Brad Allen of Judsonia as well as many other top duck callers in the country. It was the climax of the Wings Over the Prairie festival, a week-long event that brings visitors to Stuttgart from all over the United States.
Marty Simpson, who organizes the contest, said the event is more of a family reunion for him because of the atmosphere.
“It’s just a good home atmosphere for all the folks who come here,” Simpson said. “They get treated like family. For me, it’s kind of like a second family reunion, because I talk to these guys throughtout the year and it’s good to see them.”
Simpson was not the only person to have a family feeling at the tournament.
Monticello native Logan Hancock, whose parents live in Stuttgart, had his entire family come out in the rain to support him.
“We do Thanksgiving and then everybody stays (in Stuttgart),” Logan’s aunt, Rose Hancock, said. “This is the third year in a row (Logan has made it to the World’s. It’s just a family thing.”
For Simpson, his involvement goes back to his father’s influence.
“My dad was a guide, I grew up here,” Simpson said of Stuttgart. “I do this for him; he passed away a few years ago. My family and my kids help me out with this contest every year. I’m just trying to carry on the tradition.”
The field for the championship featured 67 callers, all of whom qualified from areas all over the country. Many of the competitors were Arkansas residents who traveled out of state to win regional contests for their chance to compete in Stuttgart.
There are 50 state and 30 regional competitions to qualify, with of the events being combined because of a lack of contestants.
“A lot of these guys will travel to 10-12 contests in a year trying to win a ticket, as all these guys call it,” Simpson said. “You’ll see them on Facebook, ‘You got your ticket punched to go to the Worlds.’”
Each competitor was given 90 seconds to put together their best call. While some in the crowd can make the mistake of thinking each call sounds the same, experienced viewers are well aware of any extended pauses or stumbles made by competitors.
For the future of the event, Simpson stressed the importance of involving younger competitors.
“We’re really trying to get more youth in the youth competition, which will get them into outdoors and get them outside and show that appreciation for what we have in Arkansas,” Simpson said.