May 8, 2006
Leap of faith

My destination was Frogtown on the southern outskirts of Angels Camp, but I got to the old Mother Lode gold camp 45 minutes before the start of the Sierra Foothill Wine Competition, so I killed time with a stroll about the city.

Apparently I hadn't done this for at least six years, which is when the city began to create its equivalent of Hollywood's Walk of Fame. I paused every couple of steps along Highway 49 through Angels Camp's business district to take note of another large brass plaque embedded in the sidewalk. Each recognizes a winner of the community's Jumping Frog Jubilee, which goes back to 1928. (This year’s fair starts May 17, with the frog-jumping finals Sunday, May 21.)

The first winner, “Pride of San Joaquin,” leaped 3’9.” The next year, “Hooligan” set a new “world record” with a jump of 4’0.” But over the decades, the record has grown by leaps and bounds, and now stands at 21’5-3/4,” set by “Rosie the Ribiter” in 1986.

What have those frogs been eating, or is something darker at work here, like performance-enhancing drugs? While jubilee officials don’t test the amphibious athletes for steroids and the like, they’re confident nothing as nefarious as that is going on.

The frogs generally are caught in the wild just before the contest, says Sandra Date, vice president of Angels Camp Boosters, the service group that has been overseeing the contest since its inception. “Most of these frogs aren’t raised in captivity. The less you handle them the better they jump.”

And she has a reasonable explanation why today’s winning frogs leap so much farther than early competitors. Nowadays, their leap is measured after three jumps; early on, just one leap was measured.

Incidentally, the frogs, winners and losers alike, customarily are returned to the wild after the jubilee, so don’t drive up to Angels Camp if you have a hunger for deep-fried frogs legs.

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