Fish Prizes at Carnival for a Cause Controversial

Nathan Miller | Managing Editor

Senior Trip Newton cares a great deal about her many pet fish.

“I have a fish that I rescued at the county fair five years ago,” Newton said. “I rescued him because I saw some teenagers. They threw his bag on the ground. They were kicking it around. I picked him up. He was bleeding out into the bag. He had bruises all over his body, and I just felt terrible.”

Carnival for a Cause was April 27, and the booth ran by AIM featured a game at which students could earn a goldfish for winning. AIM’s president Abby Nickol said the booth was very popular.

“Everyone that came to the booth loved the game and the idea of winning a fish,” Nickol said. “Many people came back to try and win again.”

Principal Matthew Shockley liked the idea of goldfish as prizes too.

“Goldfish at carnival-fair-type activities [isn’t] something that’s fairly uncommon,” Shockley said. “When I saw it, I thought it was a creative, ingenious prize that I would not have thought of, so I give the AIM organization credit for some ingenuity there.”

However, when Newton learned of the booth, she was worried about the fish’s wellbeing.

“I heard stories, even from my friends, about people who just win fish and swallow them whole just for fun, or like torture them and suffocate them just because it’s like they’re seen as lesser than, and I don’t really understand why,” Newton said.

Of course, most students would not behave this way, but Newton says they may still inadvertently harm their fish.

“[People] just don’t have the right information, so it’s not their fault for thinking ‘oh, it’s OK for me to stick this in a half-gallon bowl,’” Newton said. “The species of goldfish specifically that they were handing out requires at least a 20-gallon tank which is upwards of $50 alone without any other supplies, so I know not everyone is going to run out and take proper care of those fish.”

Unable to go to the carnival herself, Newton mobilized some of her friends, including senior Colleen Maynard and junior Oliver Ott, to rescue the fish.

“I had some friends there save some fish. I actually had to take in one of them because my friend wasn’t able to take care of it,” Newton said. “It was really hard to not be able to help, so I put out messages on social media. I had some friends talk to administrators, but it was frustrating that I wasn’t able to actually help physically.”

Colleen Maynard tried to go to the carnival and save the fish, but she was too late.

“I got texts that they were all out of the fish they had. So basically, they ran out before I could really do anything, or I would have just had five more fish. All I was really able to do was email Mrs. Rodkey about it,” Maynard said.

In the email, Maynard stressed she didn’t want to see anything like this in Avon’s future.

“Not much can be done for the fish that have already been taken out,” Maynard said. “I hope nothing along these lines ever happens again. I do not want them to be selling these fish at any future Student Government events.”

Assistant Principal Mrs. Kellie Rodkey received the email later that day.

“I checked my school email and saw that I had two emails from two concerned people who had been there,” Rodkey said. “I responded on Monday and let them know that I appreciate their viewpoint. I appreciate them being forthcoming about their opinions.”

Though Mrs. Rodkey said she appreciated their viewpoint, she is also aware of the people who appreciated a new addition to their family. Namely, her daughter. She won a fish three years ago at the Italian Festival, a fish she still has today.

“The other day, the fish tank was a little bit discolored, and I had to drive [my daughter] to PetSmart to get new filters,” Rodkey said. “This is a fish that has lived three years, from a carnival, that has meant a lot to my daughter. I mean, to her, this fish is like a friend.”

This is a story that seems to have repeated itself at this year’s Carnival for a Cause.

“Mr. Hines’s daughters won a goldfish,” Rodkey said. “They’re in love with this fish. They’re taking care of it. They’re learning responsibility and how to feed it. Same with Mr. Clark, he had his daughters there, and they won one. All the goldfish we’re trusting were sent to good homes.”

Of course, not all fish were as fortunate as these. At another booth, a student poured lemonade into his fish’s bowl. Junior Oliver Ott was the first to alert administration.

“I checked Snapchat, and it said [a student] had posted a video of [another student],” Ott said. “It was a video, and they were pouring pink lemonade into the fish’s water which would, without a doubt, kill it. They just killed that fish, and my jaw dropped when I saw it.”

The Echo reached out to the student involved, but he declined to comment.

After seeing the video, Ott showed the video to Student Government sponsors Ms. Lauren Patton and Mrs. Rodkey.

“I got Ms. Patton, who is the Student Government sponsor, and she went over and addressed that,” Rodkey said. “[She] explained to the person that this is unacceptable. She then put the fish into some fresh water, and the fish did survive, and [Patton] explained that that was not going to be tolerated.”

Administration was adamant that the behavior of that student was not acceptable.

“[Can we] prevent every student from making a silly decision? No, and nor will we ever be able to prevent that, but I think it’s good to just remind students of appropriate behavior and the fact that they are role models and they need to exhibit that at all times,” Rodkey said.

Maynard said she was frustrated the situation was allowed to get this far in the first place. In her eyes, she and her friends had been vocal about their concerns from the beginning.

“I’m really disappointed that this was allowed. I thought we talked about this,” Maynard said. “I was told by Hannah Schafer that it was taken care of, and she did take care of it. She was like ‘this really isn’t my decision,’ so she passed it on. She did her job.”

Hannah Schafer, class president of Avon High School, did relay the concerns she received.

“I had someone bring up the fish with me a week prior to Carnival for a Cause which I passed their concerns on to the sponsors of Student Government,” Schafer said. “My understanding is that they shared their idea with administration and received approval once guaranteeing the fish would be in clean water, have food, and be properly cared for until won.”

These fears, however, did not reach Rodkey prior to the event.

“We have 50 clubs in the school. Each sponsor is in charge of the club. I oversee all of that, but I have no idea what prizes people are giving,” Rodkey said. “The first concern I had was when that video was brought to me at the carnival, and that we addressed immediately.”

With the situation having ended, some of the students felt their worries were never seriously considered.

“I feel like my concern is not taken as a serious issue despite the fact that I’m an adult and I am very knowledgeable on this subject,” Newton said. “I’ve been keeping fish for upwards of 15 years now.”

Maynard said she too felt this way.

“I feel like they’re treating it like we’re some sort of crazy vegan animal advocates kind of a situation, and we’re not,” Maynard said.

Newton had also petitioned the fair board in 2018 to stop giving away fish as prizes. According to Newton, Rodkey signed that petition.

“Mrs. Rodkey was one of the ones who signed my petition,” Newton said. “She was so apt to participate in that, and then, once again, this is a cause I care about and that I’m very knowledgeable about, and then we’re just not being taken seriously.”

Rodkey said she does not recall signing that petition.

“That doesn’t mean that I didn’t do that. I sign lots of things and try to help students out. I’m sure I probably did,” Rodkey said. “[I] probably didn’t know what I was signing, and that’s a lesson for everybody: You need to read what you’re signing and be sure you’re on board.”

Nickol said she does not regret giving the fish away as prizes.

“It was only a game,” Nickol said. “Carnivals always have fish as a prize, and we were just doing what the people wanted.”

Administration does not plan on curtailing future attempts to distribute fish.

“That student [who poured lemonade into his fish’s bowl] was talked to and addressed, and we’re going to move on and learn, and hopefully that student thinks a little bit about it,” Shockley said, “but it’s nothing to the effect where we feel like we shouldn’t have goldfish at this event.”

Shockley stressed the personal choice each carnival-goer has in the booths he or she visits.

“People may disagree with maybe different booths or whatever exists, or maybe prizes that are being offered,” Shockley said. “If people disagree with goldfish being a prize, then don’t visit that booth. Don’t participate in that activity.”

Rodkey said she thinks it’s important to remember all the good Carnival for a Cause produced.

“The thing that I don’t want to get lost in all this… we had tons of excellent booths, including the same booth with the goldfish. The students figure out what they want to put in them as prizes. They spend their own money on that,” Rodkey said. “They’re spending money out of their own pocket to make this a fun event for the community, to raise money for these needs. I want to thank the booths and the AIM club and all of our clubs for their participation and work that they did in order to give something good to our community.”

Schafer said we can learn something valuable from this event.

“Good intentions can always be seen differently by other people,” Shafer said. “Carnival for a Cause was a fundraising event for HRH that raised $1,000, but it’s important to look at the small things along with the big picture.”

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