Calaveras reclaims Frog Jump crown

Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat /

The trophy of the Frog Jump World Champion is back on home turf for the next year.

Laura Kitchell, 49, of Angels Camp, and her bullfrog, "Hill Billy Hopper," took top honors Sunday in the International Frog Jump finals at the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee with a three-leap length of 19 feet, 5.5 inches.

"We wanted it back in the worst way," Kitchell said after claiming her prize. "I'm sorry but we wanted to beat them Bozos … even though we love them to death."

The Bozos Kitchell referred to are a Sacramento-based team of frog "jockeys," whose members had claimed an unprecedented five straight championships coming into Sunday's final.

The competition strikes the right balance between gamesmanship and sportsmanship, with rivals tight-lipped about their secrets to success yet among the first with hugs and warm congratulations once they know they've been beaten.

Bozos founder Brent Bloom was among

the first to congratulate Kitchell, who comes from a family full of frog jump enthusiasts. Joe Kitchell was the first Calaveras County resident to win in 51 years when his frog "Roy W." out jumped the rest of the pack in 2005.

Members of the Kitchells' Calaveras Frog Jockeys team wore blue and green T-shirts Sunday that celebrated back-to-back team wins in 2005 and 2006 before the Bozos launched their reign of dominance.

In Laura Kitchell's honor, the championship T-shirts the team will sport at next year's event will be colored bright pink, she said.

"We've done it before," Kitchell said. "I'm bringing it back."

The color also has special meaning as a symbol for the fight against cancer, she added.

"Each one of us on our team," she said. "Cancer has touched us in some way."

Pink proved a lucky color for the Calaveras Frog Jockeys this time around.

"My (frog) bucket broke and we had to fix her up (with pink tape) so we're going with pink again next year," said Calaveras Frog Jockey Mike Ziehlke.

The Calaveras Frog Jockeys celebrated in typical fashion: an ice water bath for champion Kitchell and celebratory ice-cold beers all around.

Besides breaking the Bozos' streak and ensuring another half-century did not pass between local winners, Kitchell joined the list of female frog jockey champs, which all agreed Sunday is a short one though none could confirm how short. Among jockeys, frog jump judges and fair brass available immediately after Sunday's final, 1981 champion Henrietta Giudici and Debbie Hand were the only names that came to mind.

That gave Kitchell just that much more to celebrate. She will turn 50, celebrate her 30th wedding anniversary and join the Calaveras Frog Jockeys in celebrating 30 years as a team this year, she said.

"It feels really good," Kitchell said.

The audience for the jump nearly filled the stands and fair CEO Laurie Giannini said the event entered Sunday with attendance figures even with the 2011 event. Fair organizers are counting on revenues from this year's fair to provide seed money for a 2013 event and entered the past four days of festivities with a positive bank balance.

The Union Democrat
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