Joel Talley just about croaked Monday - He couldn't find any jumping bullfrogs for Saturday's annual Mayor's Frog Jump.
Ten years after the last shortage of frogs for one of the Come-See-Me festival signature events led to a last-minute arrival of amphibians by UPS truck with just hours to spare, event organizer Talley said Monday suppliers have told him that big bullfrogs, the jumpers, are scarce.
More than scarce - "There ain't any," said Talley. "Nobody has 'em. I called around."
Back in 2001, the culprits were French restaurants, and those snarling biology teachers in schools across this great country. The cooks and teachers ordered all the frogs for meals and dissections. The close call of maybe having no frogs made news for days. Talley was even interviewed live on the BBC and heard around the world talking about his close call. And now, he is dealing with a critter crisis again.
Talley, in his 12th year of volunteering to run the frog jump, was told that a stretch of early winter cold weather is behind the lack of big frogs available from biological supply houses that normally are flush with frogs.
Jumping bullfrogs - the big ones - are not a staple at area pet stores. One area store Monday only had exotic tree frogs that are expensive and tiny and not much good for jumping. Animal Supply House of Rock Hill said it had no frogs at all - a guy in the store yelled out "try the lake!" Pet Village of Newport between Rock Hill and York had nothing, either.
"Tadpoles, I can get," said Linda Price, owner of Pet Village. "But they can't jump. Or not hardly, and then maybe once."
By late Monday, Talley was hopping around sick with no frogs as he worried about facing 200 or more little kids who want jumping frogs Saturday. He told his kids to plan to spend the next three evenings hip-deep in brackish water finding frogs.
Then he heard that political and criminal unrest in Southern hemisphere countries might have been at play in the frog shortage. When it comes to a frog shortage and you are the frog guy, even conspiracy theories seem plausible.
Yet a supply house in North Carolina appears to have saved the day.
A man - with a voice deeper than any bullfrog's croaking on a moonlit night - named Lawrence Wallace at Carolina Biological Supply in Burlington, N.C., came to the rescue.
Wallace, group director over live biology - and frogs sure are living because if they are dead they do not jump so good - was the frog cavalry all by himself.
Wallace, a biologist for decades who knows more than a little bit about frogs, announced, through a telephone to Talley, these words in Burlington that rang loud in Rock Hill: "We got bullfrogs! I will get you some bullfrogs!"
Wallace, through connections that only a frog expert would have, found frogs from a distributor about as far south as one can go in the continental United States, in Brownsville, Texas.
Talley placed a last-minute express order of 24 frogs Monday, the big ones of anywhere from 3 inches to monsters that are 5-plus inches and might be able to be saddled, with the clock ticking toward Saturday.
He crossed his fingers that the scheduled arrival of Thursday isn't hijacked by some French chef or mean old teacher.
And that the arrival goes better than the year when many of the frogs showed up belly-up - croaked.