When I was a little girl, every spring and early summer I would fall asleep to the sound of peep toads. In addition to the peepers, we had many other types of frogs in the area and I would look for them in the local ponds and play with them for a while before setting them free. To me, frogs were nature’s toys that did it all, they sang, swam, jumped, ate bugs and made me laugh.
One Monday when I was in the 6th grade it was announced that there would be a frog jumping contest on Friday. Being an avid reader who had recently read Mark Twain’s The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County I knew exactly what type of frog I needed, a bullfrog. I also knew exactly where to find one – in my grandfather’s pond.
Because I didn’t want to keep the frog the whole week, I waited until Wednesday to search for my frog thinking that if I didn’t find one that day, I’d still have one more day to find my champion. So after school on Wednesday my two cousins and I headed down to our grandfather’s pond to search for the biggest bullfrog we could find. We saw a lot of them, but were only able to catch three. After holding them up next to each other to compare their sizes, I put the biggest one – who I named Mr. Bullfrog – in a bucket and I headed home to begin his training.
Since I only had two evenings to work on his training I began as soon as I got home. I put Mr. Bullfrog in the driveway and did whatever I could to encourage him to jump. I talked to him, I yelled at him, I blew on him, I put earthworms on the ground in front of him to encourage him forward…but I did not touch him. We had already been given the rules for the contest, which were simple – we could do anything we wanted to encourage our frog to jump, but we could not touch him. The first frog to cross the finish line would win. After much experimenting over two evenings it was clear to me that Mr. Bullfrog only jumped when he wanted to. It didn’t matter what I did to try to make him jump. But boy when he did jump, he’d cover two to three feet. He was a winner, I was sure of it and couldn’t wait for Friday.
Since there were only 16 frogs total for the contest, it was decided that there would be four heats with four frogs competing in each. The winner of each heat would then jump in the championship. The contest area itself was only about 12 feet long and I remember thinking that Mr. Bullfrog could easily cover that in five or six jumps at the most.
Watching the first heat, I noticed that all of the frogs were much smaller than Mr. Bullfrog and it quickly became clear that he was the only bullfrog in the event. My classmates all had smaller frogs who jumped more frequently than Mr. Bullfrog, but their jumps did not cover a lot of ground. Although Mr. Bullfrog just sat there most of the time, when he jumped, he soared.
Mr. Bullfrog was in the second heat up against three of the smaller green frogs. My classmates were cheering on their frogs while I just stood there and waited. Their frogs started hopping and Mr. Bullfrog just sat there. After the other frogs got about six feet into the race, my friend whispered to me, “Do something, he’s not moving.” I said, “Just wait,” and sure enough, Mr. Bullfrog jumped, once, twice, three times….and stopped. But he was in the lead. The smaller frogs kept jumping, but two of them were going off course and one of them just kept jumping on one of the others. After a few minutes, Mr. Bullfrog made one more jump, crossing the finish line and winning the heat.
Although there may have been other girls who entered the contest, I don’t remember them. I do remember that it came down to me and 3 boys in the championship round. But I wasn’t worried. I’d already seen those other frogs jump and I was sure Mr. Bullfrog would bring me home the 6th Grade Frog Jumping Championship. From the start of the round, it looked like he was in it to win it. He was the first one to jump and it was a heck of a jump, three feet easy! The boys were yelling at their frogs and blowing on them trying to get them to move and they did jump haphazardly around, but they weren’t covering any ground. I just stood there, waiting. Mr. Bullfrog would jump when he was good and ready. And soon he was ready and made another huge leap, putting him almost halfway to the finish line!
Classmates and the two teachers who were supervising the contest had formed a circle around us watching the frogs and cheering us on. I could hear some of my male classmates cheering on the boys, telling them not to let a girl beat them. I shot several of them dirty looks but said nothing. The other frogs jumped several times and finally caught up to Mr. Bullfrog. Mr. Bullfrog made two more jumps and was less than an inch from the finish line. And then he stopped and sat there. While he sat there one of the other frogs made several jumps and ended up about six inches behind Mr. Bullfrog. I was nervous, but still confident.
At that point, the two teachers who were supervising the race were asked a question by another teacher from another grade. As they were chatting with the other teacher, my classmate took a small stick and poked his frog in the butt. And his frog jumped. He poked him again and his frog crossed the finish line and won. I was gutted. My classmate looked at me and shrugged and I just glared back at him. He knew he cheated, his friends knew he cheated. Everyone except the teachers knew he cheated but no one, including me, told on him. But in the end, he didn’t get any satisfaction out of the win because there was no prize, just bragging rights. And his cheating had taken those rights away. More importantly, it was not his frog that the kids talked about that day, it was Mr. Bullfrog. After school, I headed back to my grandfather’s pond and set Mr. Bullfrog free at the edge of the pond and he just sat there…..but I knew when he was ready to jump, he’d go far.
Until today, I had no idea that Save the Frogs Day exists, but it does, and it is this Saturday, April 30, 2016. Since the 1980’s frogs have been in decline world-wide and more than 200 varieties have disappeared altogether. While scientists have many theories on the reasons why, what remains clear is that frogs, and their future on our are planet, are in serious jeopardy. To learn more about the problems facing frogs, please visit Save the Frogs.
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