June 30, 2016

Mostly clear

52nd Frog Jump Festival attracts 700 competitors

From left, Michael Koukouras, 6, of Medina, his uncle, Scott Rainey, and Austin Rainey, 2, both of North Ridgeville, place their frog “Green Mommy” in the ring during the “grand jump-off” at Sunday’s 52nd Valley City Frog Jump Festival in Mill Stream Park. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KIERA MANION-FISCHER)

Nicholas Hurt, 7, said the secret to winning the Valley City Frog Jump was waking his bullfrog up with a little cold water right before its big moment.

Then, when the frog is in the ring, “You gotta slap the ground,” he said.

Hurt’s frog, Lights, won the prize for the longest jump — 16 feet, eight inches.

Nicholas Hurt, 7, of North Ridgeville, and his grandfather, John Hurt, pose Sunday with “Mayor Ribbit,” the Valley City Frog Jump Festival mascot. Hurt was the festival’s grand champion, whose frog also had the longest jump, at 16 feet and eight inches. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KIERA MANION-FISCHER)

The champ had a lot of competition — about 700 frogs participated in Sunday’s 52nd Valley City Frog Jump Festival, held at Mill Stream in Liverpool Township.

Because the longest jump came in the final “grand jump-off,” Hurt’s frog was also the festival’s grand champion.

Hurt, of North Ridgeville, caught his award-winning frog at a family friend’s pond.

According to festival rules, a frog is placed in the center of a parachute, and a competitor can’t touch the frog once it leaves the center. After three jumps, the distance is measured. Frogs compete in “flights” of 20 contestants.

The winner of each flight then competes in a final “grand jump-off” at the end of the day. About a third of competitors catch their own frogs, but a frog can be rented on the day of the festival for $5, which supports the chamber’s activities.

One might wonder where all those rental frogs come from.

That’s where Dave Raco and a group of dedicated volunteers come in.

At 9 p.m. on the Friday before the festival, about 30 people fan out to ponds at local golf courses — Cherokee Hills, Bunker Hill, Shale Creek and the Medina Country Club.

“Take a flashlight, shine it on the frog, he’ll freeze for a second,” Raco said.

Raco said the frogs are treated humanly. They are stored in several large rubber containers with a little bit of pond water.

“We’re very, very, very careful,” he said.

And, the 240 frogs get a meal of 300 live crickets bought at a local pet shop as well as some extra powdered frog food, but “frogs like to catch their dinner,” Raco said.

They are returned to their ponds immediately after the festival is over.

Rod Knight, director of the Valley City Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the festival, said the event started in 1962 when a group of residents were trying to come up with something special for the 150th celebration of Liverpool Township.

Duane Naftzger, Andy Neff and Jay Reynolds, inspired by Mark Twain’s short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” planned the first Frog Jump Festival, and the tradition has continued ever since.

“That was over two or three pitchers of sarsaparilla, I’m told,” Knight said.

Four great-granddaughters of Duane Naftzger competed in the festival this year.

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.