Fairfield Boys Club builds community with 5 decades of jumping frog contests in the mountains

August 12, 2018
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Pj Black, 11, of Belle Vernon, gets his frog to jump during the Fairfield Boys Club’s 49th annual frog jumping contest at Laurel Valley Elementary School in New Florence on Aug. 4, 2018.

With apologies to Mark Twain, the Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County had nothing on the celebrated pond dwellers at the 49th Annual Fairfield Boys Club Frog Jumping Contest on Saturday.

The event is always the first Saturday in August. Held on the football field at the Laurel Valley Elementary School, off Route 711 in the mountains midway between Ligonier and Johnstown, the contest is equal parts competition, picnic, family reunion, festival and fundraiser.

Families began lining up with picnic coolers, camp chairs and strollers well before the start of the 11 a.m. competition.

Getting there early is the best way to stake out a prime space among the canopies that ring the football field where competition rings were marked out for Tadpoles (ages 6 and under), Peepers (ages 7-9), Croakers (ages 10-12), Froggers (ages 13-15), and Bullfrogs (ages 16 and up).

Along the perimeter of the field, next to the bake sale, Kathy Shank manned a booth selling T-shirts and all manner of frog trinkets as her grandson geared up for the competition.

“Did you ever see so many things frog?” Shank asked as a pair of pre-schoolers tried to decide whether the frog clappers were more desirable than the frog rings or frog tattoos.

Brooke Cantanese-Shedlock, 36, drove an hour from her Clearfield County home Friday night. She and her three daughters, Macy, 6, Leona, 4 and Sawyer, 2, spent the night at her mother’s home near the school to get there early enough for the girls to rent a frog.

The fathers, sons and grandfathers who are the pillars of the Boys Club, spend every night the week before the contest haunting ponds with flashlights and nets, snaring as many as 300 frogs to rent out to contestants for $1 a frog.

“I went to this was I was a child,” Cantanese-Shedlock said, smiling as the line at the gatehouse snaked toward the frog tanks. “I tried to explain it to them, but you just have to be here. I’ve even see people I went to school with here.”

Children in shorts and T-shirts, and even the occasional pair of colored gum boots, waited anxiously for a chance to hand a club member a crinkled bill.

Rich Anderson, who was manning the Boys Club frog tank with his son Tyler, 14, handed a smiling tot a container with a frog freshly plucked from the tank.

“He’s not a big one, but he’s a jumper,” Anderson assured the boy.

A sign on the canopy shading the frog tank warned: “Frogs must be returned at the end of the day. NO EXCEPTIONS!”

They are all returned to the ponds at nearby Champion Lakes, as per contest rules.

Some contest veterans, like seven-year-old Savannah Oliver, of Ligonier, preferred to bring their own frogs.

Oliver won her age category last year with a rented frog and couldn’t wait to come back with her own amphibian this year, her mother said.

“This is all she’s been talking about. She and her dad went out and got a big bullfrog,” Georgette Oliver said as Savannah lifted the lid on her pail to peak at her frog.

When the whistle blew, the first contestants marched to the field. In each ring, four contestants took their places inside a small circle enclosed by a larger ring. Holding their frogs, they knelt. At the signal, they released them.

As per contest rules contestants to crawled along behind the frogs. Some patted aimless amphibians and blew on them to get them moving.

The first frog to reach the outer ring in each group was declared the winner.

After a series of elimination rounds, the winners in each age category were called forward to collect their trophies.

But there were more real winners.

Russ Davies, who was still helping more than two decades after his son, now 40, aged out of the group, said it helped build solid connections in this community in the mountains.

“It’s just a great thing,” Davies said.

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