A week before the 2019 Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee, 13-year-old fraternal twins Logan and Madison Busch hunted for bullfrogs on a shrouded levee in Gustine with flashlights and nets.
It was their first time catching frogs for themselves. Their family, all from the San Jose area, caught about 50 of them that night, said Logan and Madison’s mother, Kristi Busch.
“We brought them home and then they practiced with them to see which ones would jump and which ones would walk. They found the best ones and those are the ones they qualified with,” said Kristi Busch, 50.
The siblings — having spent most of their lives as spectators and slowly joining the ranks as competitors — considered the mission a rite of passage.
“We’ve kind of grown up to do it. Now we’ll wish to go out every year to catch them because that’s a whole other experience,” Logan Busch said.
The Busch family has competed in the historic event for 20 years, but no one expected the twins to take the first and second-place prizes. Logan Busch’s bullfrog “The Webbed One” jumped 18 feet and six inches and Madison Busch’s bullfrog “Jumping Jack Flash” jumped 18 feet and 4.75 inches.
And though the twins can enforce a merciless competition with each other — be it with grades, sports and even solitaire — they joined in an embrace at the winner’s table.
“It’s interesting every year how different the frogs jump. What it means for us is we go up there and let out natural abilities take over and just have fun,” Madison Busch said. “You still have fun no matter how you do.”
Logan and Madison Busch attend the St. Martin of Tours Catholic School in San Jose as seventh graders.
They’re mum on the practical applications of their foremost academic interests (science, biology and math) and how it assisted them at the jump. But each of them recognized the event has taught them more about the creatures that fascinate them.
“I like frogs and I like learning about new ideas,” Logan Busch said. “I like experimenting with things that have to do with math and science and I know I have to keep them warm so they can jump.”
Kristi said her husband, Logan, Madison and their grandparents used to visit Calaveras County only once a year for the hallmark Angels Camp event. Kristi Busch said her father, who celebrated his 80th birthday just days before the jump, first attended the event with a senior softball team friend, Bill Guzules.
Guzules had his own team and the whole Busch family eventually joined in for the annual celebration. They are now known as the “World Champion Team.”
“It’s just become a big family, we’ve just become a big community. With all things that life brings, it's kind of bonded us. It’s kind of become a reunion every year,” Busch said.
As the kids grew older, they took a liking to the area as untamed vacation spot, where they could zipline at Mercer Caverns in the summer or play in the snow at Bear Valley in the winter.
“I really look forward to it and it's probably one of the many highlights of the year,” Logan Busch said.
“It’s not even so far of a drive when we go to the fair,” added Madison, noting they’ve driven much further (like down to Los Angeles). “For us, the drive isn’t that bad, so it's not like it's that far away.”
When the kids are competing at the frog jump, their vacation is more like work. Madison said they’re up early and usually passing out early to get ready for another full day.
But their mother said their work was very obviously a labor of love. The consistency of the event had not only brought them practice, but a knowledge of evaluating potential bullfrog jumping candidates for their success.
“It's so cool watching them get to win because they work hard at everything they do,” Kristi said. “To watch them now on the big stage, getting to go up there and win, it is beyond words.”
Laurie said she did not know the specifications on “The Webbed One” or “Jumping Jack Flash,” except they were “normal sized” by most standards. She said the bullfrogs must be at least four inches to complete, but they are not individually weighed or measured before the competition.
In the frog jump competition, every frog gets three jumps after it’s set down on the ground. Most competitors will squat, hunch, roll and barrel behind their bullfrogs to propel them forward and straight and toward the best possible score.
Sometimes the bullfrog might turn in the opposite direction. If it touches its handler, then they’re both disqualified.
“Logan gets into it as much as he can,” Kristi Busch said. “He gets scrapes on his knees and elbows.”
Madison Busch’s bullfrog jumped just a few places after her brother, Kristi Busch said. When her frog jumped, it had actually appeared that she won, but a tape measure showed Madison to be slightly more than an inch behind.
“I was a little disappointed, but at the same time it's fun for him to win and it's a team thing. If the team wins the team does good,” Madison Busch said.
Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee Fair manager Laurie Giannini said it was the first known time that twins had won the first and second place awards.
She described it as the “sweetest moment” when Logan let Madison hold the championship trophy at the award ceremony.
The competitiveness between the twins hasn’t waned since the previous weekend, but they are enjoying an achievement that feels like it's mutually shared, Kristi Busch said.
“For them, they have just had a blast to come back and tell all of their friends. They are having a great time just soaking it all in,” she said.
Giannini said the unaudited total for attendees over the weekend from Thursday through Sunday was about 20,000 people. She said the Junior Livestock Auction at the fair also raised $620,000, about $10,000 more than last year.