Discoveries: Sacramento team aims to repeat at frog-jumping contest
05/13/2012 12:00 AM
05/17/2012 2:05 PM
Hundreds of slimy, croaking bullfrogs, accompanied by their less slimy but equally exhortative human "jockeys," will pounce on Angels Camp next weekend and take a giant leap at local fame, a modicum of fortune and maybe even inspire some modern-day Mark Twain to wax prosaic.
That is, they will attempt to dethrone the dynastic juggernaut that is Team Bozos of Sacramento in the storied Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee.
Good luck trying. It takes a lot to overcome the skill and cunning of this cabal of frog-jumping coaxers from the Sacramento area who have made an art and science out of catching and training amphibians for their moment in the spotlight, then releasing them, post-jump, back into the wild.
Five years running, a member of Team Bozos (who, judging by their name, don't take themselves too seriously) has won the coveted Calaveras contest, perhaps the only sporting event inspired by a short story.
Last year's champ, Kevin Daly of Carmichael, and Bozos founder Brent Bloom agreed to an exclusive interview, speaking only with these ironclad provisos:
No talking about precisely where they catch the frogs.
No questions on strategy, prepping or training.
Well, actually, Daly and Bloom will consent to autographs, if pressed. Last May, after winning the title with his frog, It's Cheaper to Leap Her, and being interviewed on stage for Jay Leno's "Tonight Show," Daly was asked for his signature by a star-struck little girl.
But when it comes to frog-jockeying specifics, these gregarious guys become cold-blooded competitors. If they told you their trade secrets, man, they'd have to kill you (or, in their parlance, make you croak).
"We've been on a five-year run and that's unprecedented," Daly said. "We've heard stuff like, 'They're putting something in the water,' which is total malarkey. They can't understand why we're whupping them. We know why we've been whupping them. We're consistent.
"Like with our (water) temperature (for the frogs, pre-jump). They'll come by with their digital readings and try to figure out our temperatures in our (frog) boxes. They're over there with big ears trying to figure out what we're doing."
Still, in the interest of journalism, we pressed these Bozos to divulge more secrets.
"Really, we'd have to lie to you," Bloom said, laughing. "Other teams'll copy us. They've done it before."
These Bozos aren't just being paranoid. Between these two mustachioed men are a combined 75 years of frog-jumping experience. They aren't going to impart decades of knowledge to just any old dude with a notebook.
What they will talk about is team history. Bloom was introduced to frog jumping in 1970 by his then next-door neighbor Lee Guidicci, who still holds the Calaveras record for longest jump at 21 feet, 5 3/4 inches. (By the way, frogs are measured on three consecutive leaps from a sitting start.)
"At first, he threw frogs in my backyard," Bloom recalled. "I knew it was him. He was kind of a character.
"Then we made a bet of beards. We grew beards and the loser (in Calaveras) shaved his off. I was only 20 at the time. Mine was a scruffy beard. He was 14 years older. I lost my beard, my buddy lost his beard, and my girlfriend lost her hair. She had to cut off a foot of it. I lost my girlfriend over that."
The next year, Bloom exacted revenge and forced Guidicci to shave. Eventually, Daly and others joined Bloom and they formed Team Bozos.
What's up with the name?
"We've known each other since we were 13," Daly said. "Some guy on the street called us all bozos when we were hanging out. I like the name. It's a great excuse. If you're a Bozo, you can screw things up and it's OK because you're a Bozo, right?"
Makes perfect sense. But these men are anything but clowns when it comes to guiding frogs to jumping immortality. One Bozo won the title in 1996 with a three-legged frog. Bloom has won twice, coming within three-quarters of an inch of Guidicci's record. Daly will be vying for back-to-back wins next week.
Still probing for the secret to their success, we asked what they look for in a good jumping frog. The two exchanged glances, then, with a nod from Bloom, Daly said the best jumpers are males between 4 and 6 years old. They can tell the frog's sex by gauging the size of their ear disks – "They're smaller on a female," Daly said.
Why are males better?
"They're just bigger and stronger," Daly said.
"Plus," Bloom adds, "it's mating time in April and by May, a lot of the females are pregnant."
That weighs them down, apparently.
One thing the jockeys don't cough up, despite relentless Mike Wallace-like prodding, is where they find the frogs. They do lament, however, that some of the best swamps are no more, thanks to development in Elk Grove and depletion of the frog population along the Yolo Causeway.
But Daly felt it was safe enough to say this: They want frogs with attitude.
"We don't use golf course frogs," Daly said. "Our theory is, you want a frog that had to struggle to survive. It'll only make them tougher and stronger. It's got bass and muskrats attacking it and raccoons and catfish to contend with. Those golf course frogs? What do they get, a stray slice they have to duck from once in a while?"
Bloom: "Only our team would jump a three-legged frog. Now that's one tough survivor."
Team Bozos jockeys, too, are survivors. Each May in Angel's Camp new challengers beckon, but despite all the hue and croaking, Bozos usually emerge victorious. And to the victors go the spoils – a 3-foot trophy and a nice check to spend on beer.
And for the frogs?
"We put 'em right back where we found 'em," Daly said.
CALAVERAS COUNTY FAIR AND JUMPING FROG JUBILEE
The fair runs Thursday through Sunday at the county fairgrounds, 2456 Gun Club Road, Angels Camp. Preliminary frog jumping takes place Thursday through Saturday, with the top 50 competitors squaring off at 3 p.m. Sunday for the finals.
Single-day tickets are $7, plus $5 for parking. They can be purchased online at www.frogtown.org.
Directions from Sacramento: Take Jackson Road (Highway 16) approximately 30 miles to the Highway 49 junction and turn right toward Jackson. Follow Highway 49 to Calaveras County. Turn left onto Gun Club Road.
About This BlogSam McManis has covered travel and recreation at The Sacramento Bee since 2011, criss-crossing California to report on interesting, humorous, unexpected and sometimes truly strange stories. When he's not driving all over the state for work, Sam likes to run on the many mountain trails California boasts. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 916-321-1145. Twitter: @SamMcManis https://twitter.com/SamMcManis
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