Dousman Derby Days State Frog Jumping Contest
For the most part, Dousman Derby Days is like a lot of small town church festivals. There’s a softball tournament, rides, roasted corn and snocones, live bands in the evening and crafts. The pride and joy of Dousman, however, is evident before you even get to the ‘downtown’ area near Cory Park. On the giant water tower, there is a cartoon frog jumping with a smile on its face.
The annual summer two day “derby” features the State Frog Jumping Contest, which is part of the fabric of this quaint community on the Hwy 18 corridor of southeastern Wisconsin. The contest is in its 54th year, and the overall winner gets a trophy, ribbon, $100, and a ride in the Derby Days Parade. It appears to be equal parts wholesome goodness for kids and parents and hardcore competition that spans generations.
When I arrived on Saturday, half an hour after its scheduled start, I ran to the wooded corner of the park fearing I missed it all. Luckily, day one is scheduled for three hours. A steady stream of kids from three to 15 pay the $1 entrance fee, with another $1 if you are renting a frog. But I’m jumping ahead of myself. (That’s terrible, and I apologize.)
A look at the printed sheet of champions dating back 53 years shows many of the winners to be relatively local. There are a few winners from farther away; occasionally top spots hail from Hayward, Oconomowoc, Janesville, and Pewaukee. Only one year, 1992, was won by an out-of-stater — from California.
Many of the children rent-a-frog and are done in under a minute. The frogs are lined up in quart-sized deli containers and look to be identical healthy specimens from local swamps. There are just as many girls as boys participating, with no sense of ickiness on anyone’s behalf. One large frog someone has brought leaps wildly before anyone is ready and out of the circle towards some young mothers in butterfly lawn chairs. It heads right for one woman who rightfully lets out a horror-movie scream. When it flies past the recoiling victim, her friend convulses in laughter.
There are rules, as spelled out on another handout sheet. Each contestant is allowed to enter up to two frogs per day. Each frog is allowed to jump three times in a row; the measurement taken from the center circle is straight out from the third point. So if your frog makes a mega jump once then turns left and left again (as one girl’s frog did), the measurement is not as long as a straight jump.
You cannot touch your frog contestant to make it jump once released. Methods from the more experienced involve a flying leap that thunders hands on the ground while blowing at the frog’s butt. Each frog has 10 seconds to complete the three leap. There is some official discretion allowed for new kids and mishaps. But then there are seasoned vets.
There is no listed age limit on the sheets, but there is also only a trickle of adults in the 90-minute flow of participants. There is a large sign that changes each time a new record has been bested for 2009. It increases incrementally, up to 11 feet and 11 inches at one point.
The all-time record, set in 1974 by Eric Carlson’s frog “Sam,” is 19 feet and 3.5 inches. Eric and someone named Jim Carlson, also from Delavan, appear six times in the early years. One year in-between is held by Bonnie Carlson. Larry Williams, Jr. appears to have won six times in a 33-year period. There are others.
But the one to watch today is Hunter Hettich. His father Jim appears on the champions list twice in 11 years. Hunter appears as the winner in 2007 and 2008. He also appears with an entourage of friends and family, and his hair is dyed green along with another boy. Jim Hettich rolls up with a large plastic garbage can drilled with quarter sized holes.
The pro kids have plastic Folgers cans labeled with tape bearing the frog’s name and a hole to peer down into once on the starting circle. A mop-topped kid stands at the ready with a net to catch errant contestants. A man in a brilliant white mustache marks the distance. A woman with a clipboard marks the scores and gives every kid a sticker bearing the distance. The crowd oohs and aahs, and parents stand with digital cameras or phones snapping pictures.
About 3/4 of the way through the line, the kid with the green hair and a big frog steps into the circle and the crowd suddenly pays attention. Hunter Hettich listens to his coach, waits for the amphibian olympian to calm down, and releases the top. The frog does not stir. Hunter steps back several feet. Three seconds pass. Hunter leaps toward the frog like a base stealer, and the creature leaps once, twice, three times on its own in a slight zig zag. Then it keeps going and makes a break for it. Immediately the dad races around with his own net and stops it. The measurement is taken, and it is well over 15 feet — breaking Hunter’s own record last year.
The crowd roars with applause, and you can’t help but admire the pure sports victory joy the kid is having.