May 26, 2013, Biloxi, Mississippi:
By Capt. Dave Lear
It will be a title worthy of its namesake. When fishing ends and all the scores are finally tabulated, the top boat in the 2013 Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic will receive the Sonny Middleton Award. The new distinction was created in honor of Ralph “Sonny” Middleton, the owner of Dog River Marina and A&M Yacht Sales in Mobile, Alabama. Middleton is a tireless advocate for the sport-fishing community and conservation in the central Gulf.
“Sonny has a heart of gold and he’s supported the Classic since Day One,” says Tournament Director Bobby Carter. “He’s well-liked and well-respected by everyone. He has always been willing to share ideas on ways we can improve the tournament and he’s been a champion of billfish conservation for as long as I can remember. It’s only fitting that the Classic’s Top Boat Award is now named in his honor.”
Last October, Middleton was the recipient of The Billfish Foundation’s Rybovich Lifetime Achievement Award. Created in honor of the late John Rybovich, the legendary boat-builder and early conservation advocate, it is the foundation’s most distinguished award.
“Your long-term commitment to billfish conservation, sport-fishing tournaments and the recreational boating industry throughout the Gulf of Mexico has been exemplary,” noted TBF President Ellen Peel. “In advancing each of these endeavors as owner and operator of Dog River Marina you have maintained a level of integrity and positive community involvement far beyond what is necessary for business success. You are a legend in the Gulf, one that TBF is proud to be associated with and to honor.”
“This is a total surprise,” Middleton said when he learned of the newly-created Classic award. “I’ve been blessed. My dad was in the boat business and I took it over many, many years ago. But I don’t feel like I’ve worked a day in my life, it’s all just been a lot of fun. I have to give all the credit to my 37 great employees, who are my big family, plus all our great customers and great captains. I owe it all to them.
“When we first started there were only a couple tournaments in the Gulf. But Bobby and his crew have done a good job of building a first-class event. It’s in an excellent spot, it’s good for the economy and everybody has a fun time. We’re proud to have been a part of it since the beginning.”
The 2013 Classic kicks off Monday, June 3, with welcome party. The festivities continue the next night with a dockside party at the Point Cadet Marina in Biloxi. Following the Go Deep Golf Scramble Wednesday morning, there will be the mandatory captains meeting Wednesday at the Golden Nugget Casino, the host resort. The boat parade gets underway at noon on Thursday, with fishing continuing through Saturday. Scales open at 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday and all boats must be checked in by 9 p.m. Saturday night.
On Sunday morning, tired but happy anglers and crew will gather in the Golden Nugget to collect the numerous trophies and checks. But only one boat will receive the top honor–the Sonny Middleton Award–and that will be a fitting tribute.