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Fair-time frog jump feud demands leap of faith

Two frog jumps in Angels Camp?

That may be the unlikely product of a nasty dispute between the Angels Camp Boosters Club, which founded the Jumping Frog Jubilee in 1928, and the Calaveras County Fair Board of Directors, which took the event over in 1938 and still runs it today.

For decades the fair board and the Boosters were an effective team, combining to turn the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee into an event that lured visitors and media attention from throughout the state and nation to our region each May.

But in the space of months, decades' worth of goodwill has seemingly unraveled and the disgruntled Boosters have announced plans to hold their own jumping frog contest, on Angels Camp's Main Street, over the same dates as the fair's jubilee.

In this particular case, twice as many frog jumps is not a good thing.

In fact it's like splinter groups organizing a second Rose Parade, an alternative Boston Marathon or new Garlic Festival on the other side of Gilroy.

A second frog jump would only bring a dispute so far confined to Angels Camp to the attention of a much wider audience — hundreds of frog jumping competitors and the tens of thousands of fairgoers who come to see the action each year. This is also an audience that contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Angels Camp, Calaveras County and neighboring economies each spring.

So if that audience becomes disenchanted, it isn't just the fair gate receipts that suffer. It is the entire region.

The dispute is reminiscent of a similar, south-of-the-reservoir spat involving the Tuolumne County Film Commission and the like-named Tuolumne County Film Consortium, both supposedly dedicated to luring film productions to the county. But the dueling organizations ended up entangled in a bitter, long-running lawsuit, and Hollywood effectively shunned Tuolumne County for years.

If the fair board and Boosters Club don't resolve their dispute, consequences could be far more dire.

The Frog Jump, with roots reaching back to Mark Twain's 1860 short story about a buckshot-stuffed croaker named Dan'l Webster, is Calaveras County's signature event. If a dispute among organizers yields vitriolic dialogue and competing jumps, the black eye will be visible nationwide.

But there is good news.

Tuolumne County's commission-consortium dispute involved a contrarian and a pretender organization working at cross purposes with the original group.

In Angels Camp, both the fair board and the Boosters have a long history of working for the good of the Jumping Frog Jubilee. Even recent comments made in anger reflect a desire to preserve, protect and promote the event.

Yet poor communication, misunderstanding and suspicion has brought the dispute to this pass: The Boosters claim the Fair Board no longer wants it involved in running the jumping competition, has withdrawn its support and is planning its own Main Street Jump. The fair manager counters that the Boosters are plagued with internal dissent and have voted against meeting the fair's terms.

But the most telling comment came from fair spokeswoman Laurie Giannini, who in a letter to the Boosters last week said Frog Jump officials didn't realize the organization was backing out until they heard it from a newspaper reporter.

The need for all sides — Booster officers, fair directors and the board's Frog Jump Advisory Committee — to sit down and talk directly is clear.

If the present dispute is to be resolved, not only must lines of communication be open, but egos must be checked at the door and intramural turf battles put aside both for the good of the Frog Jump and the community as a whole.

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Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board — Publisher Geoff White, Managing Editor Patty Fuller, City Editor Craig Cassidy and senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.

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