'Burning Brightly' wins big

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Mike Ziehlke got beat by a 5-year-old.

But the veteran member of the Angels Camp-based Calaveras Frog Team was beaming like a proud father after yesterday's frog jump finals because, well, he was a proud father.

Ziehlke finished seventh overall in the Frog Jump competition. His 5-year-old son, Michael, finished fifth.

"I am so happy for him," Ziehlke said, still wearing his team T-shirt. "I had never placed. I've done this more than 15 years, and now my son kicks my butt."

It got even better for the Calaveras Frog Team because another of its members, Jacob Kitchell, 20, finished fourth overall.

To 5-year-old Michael Ziehlke, the large silver plate he'd just won was more a mirror than a trophy. He frolicked near the edge of the stage after winning his award, occasionally pausing to look at his reflection in the award.

"He doesn't understand winning and losing," said Brenda Ziehlke, his mother. "He was just out there to have fun."

But Michael said "I knew I was going to win."

For second-place winner Pete Shilts of Medford, Ore., frog jumping runs in the family.

Last year, it was Shilts' wife, Vickie, who took home the first-place trophy. Their 12-year-old son, Cody, won the contest when he was 3 and is the youngest frog jump champion in history. Their other son, Mike, 23, has finished second twice and taken home a third-place ribbon, as well.

Vickie Shilts said she had hoped to keep the championship trophy in the household, but said she was just happy to be there.

Perhaps next year, someone from the Calaveras Frog Team will finish first or second. The team has landed frog jockeys at every other top-10 ranking.

The overall winner of the frog jumps was Budd Carle, a San Jose software designer, jumping with the World Champion Frog Team. His frog's three leaps totaled 19 feet, 23/4 inches.

As Carle stepped forward to receive his trophy, his teammates rushed the stage and emptied a water jug over his head, as if he had just coached them to a Super Bowl win.

The Union Democrat
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