Toad-ally awesome

Written by Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat May 20, 2013 11:30 am

Riley Kitchell, with the Foothill Froggers, won the Calaveras Jumping Frog Jubilee with his frog, SHHH! Don’t Tell Morgan, with a jump of 20 feet 10 inches. Maggie Beck / Union Democrat, Copyright 2013.
The trophy for the winner of the international frog jump finals at the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee is staying put in its home county for at least another year.

In fact, it won’t even be leaving the family.

Foothill Froggers’ Riley Kitchell, 27, of Mountain Ranch, recorded the only jump of more than 20 feet in Sunday’s final to capture the title. Kitchell’s frog, “SHHH! Don’t Tell Morgan,” hopped three times to a total of 20 feet, 10 inches, with just two jumps remaining for the day to give this year’s final a nice dose of suspense.

Kitchell takes over bragging rights from his mother, Laura Kitchell, of Angels Camp, who won last year and placed second this time around. Her frog “Slip Sliding Away” recorded the highest qualifying jump this year at 21 feet, 0.5 inches, but came up a tad shorter in the final at 19 feet, 4 inches.

Lee Giuidici’s world record from 1986 of 21 feet, 5.75 inches, by “Rosie the Ribiter,” will stand for another year as the longest-held mark in the event’s 86-year history.

The Kitchells had a side bet going on Sunday’s event.

“So she owes me five bucks,” Riley said of his mother.

“I took second so I’m just happy,” Laura said, adding of her friends’ and family’s celebration, “They’re all camping at my house tonight.”

Riley’s cousin and Laura’s niece, Caitlin Kitchell, 19, of Angels Camp, finished third behind a leap of 18 feet, 4 inches, by “Das Nater Tater.”

This is the first year of back-to-back local champions since 2005-06.

“Apparently, we keep doing something right because we keep coming back and winning it,” Riley said, between ceremonious baths of buckets of “frog water” and Coors Light.

Riley parted with one secret to success.

“We just feed them crickets,” he said. “Nothing but crickets.”

His win marks for the first from his Foothill Froggers team, which spun off from his mother’s Calaveras Frog Jockeys seven years ago.

“We branched off from the parents, started doing our own thing and finally it paid off,” Riley said.

Though billed as an “international frog jump final,” the contest often draws its most distant competitors from Gustine, Sacramento or Sweet Home, Ore. However, this year’s event drew some foreign flavor with the Gustine Frog Team represented by Alana Barbosa, a high school foreign exchange student from Brazil. Barbosa recorded the 25th-best qualifying jump, and her frog “Pride of Brazil” leapt a respectable 15 feet, 4.75 inches, in Sunday afternoon’s final.