- Mark Poutenis
- A frog leg up on the competition.
If past years are any indication, Valley City will welcome nearly five hundred visitors bearing frogs on Sunday morning. Not just another small town festival, the Valley City Frog Jump has become Ohio's slimy green mecca, and now in its 38th year, it attracts pilgrims and their frogs from all over Northeast Ohio.
The contest is simple: A frog is placed on a spot in the center of a circular parachute. It gets three jumps. The distance from the center to its ultimate destination is measured and recorded. The longest distance wins. The longest jump on record from 1988 measured an impressive nineteen feet, one inch.
The annual frog jump found its inspiration in the Mark Twain short story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and first began in 1962 as a 150th anniversary celebration for the Medina County town. It was such a hit that, in two short years, then-Governor James A. Rhodes designated the frog-jumping event as the official Ohio State Champion Contest. The frog jump ascended to the rank enjoyed by other "state things," such as tomato juice, the trilobite, and "Hang On Sloopy" (our official beverage, fossil, and rock song, respectively).
Though The Celebrated Jumping Frog deals with a few community-unfriendly subjects, such as compulsive gambling and fraud, the frog jump hasn't yet attracted any unsavory elements to Valley City. According to Jim Sandor, Valley City Chamber of Commerce president and frog jump official, no one has ever mistreated his own frog or anyone else's frog, nor has anyone attempted to cheat.
In fact, in our ultracompetitive society, the sport of frog jumping has remained innocent, sedate, and refreshingly amateur. The frogs undergo little training. There is no off-season weightlifting, carbo-loading, or amphibian creatine. They compete for the pure joy of sport.
It's hard to keep the frogs in captivity anyway, explains Sandor. "You catch them the night before and release them afterwards."
So in the misty, dark nights approaching the morning of August 15, those aspiring to 1999's frog jump trophy will canvas Valley City's ponds, streams, and golf courses, anxious to snatch up their own triple-jumping champion. But for all you city types who have as much chance of catching a frog as tipping a cow fear not! Valley City's Chamber of Commerce will personally catch your frog for you.
Says Sandor: "We have a few people from the Chamber who go out and catch frogs the night before. We usually have a couple hundred frogs to rent to those people in the city who don't have access to frogs. So we supply some, and they can rent them the day of the event rentals are one dollar." It's a rare Chamber of Commerce that wears a collective frog-hunter cap.
But rarer still is the opportunity to compete in a frog-jumping contest on a whim. Rest assured, these are no harried, fatigued frogs who might very well flop in the competition. Handpicked from Valley City's various frog-rich locales, this select group of amphibians can relax before the jump in their plush, private holders. Graciously provided by the Chamber, the specialized pens give the frogs everything they need to rest up for the competition, including moist bedding and a screened lid for plenty of air. On the day of the competition, if you're lucky, you might find them all gathered at the moist holder wagon, joking among themselves and lathering up for the day's event. Aaron Steinberg