The little girl stood in the line with hundreds of other kids and opened the old cooler. Inside something moved. It looked to be an alligator maybe, it was so big.
“Nope, bullfrog,” said Sara Grace Melton, age 8. “Huge.”
Sara was right, this frog had a face the size of a pie plate, and if a little girl with blonde hair and a smile that crossed an entire face stood on a dusty baseball field with a frog in a cooler, this surely was on a bright and warm Saturday in April the annual Mayor’s Frog Jump of the Come-See-Me festival.
The crowd was huge, several hundred kids, in what looked like the largest ever crowd for the one event of the great spring festival that allows only kids. Nobody over the age of 12 is allowed. I know because I tried to get in line and was told I was too gray, and too old, and too rotten to enter.
What a crowd of real kids. Boys without front teeth wearing shorts and cowboy boots. Girls with pigtails and braids and beads in their hair. Tiny babies barely a year old and roughneck boys pushing 10 years old who carried their frogs just to feel the great slime.
Even the Rock Hill Mayor, Doug Echols, was there in the line of the event named for him and sponsored by him – but with his three grandchildren. Guy and Ben and Liza Echols jumped frogs like all the hundreds of other kids and the mayor urged and begged those frogs to jump.
The grandkids were the stars Saturday and Echols the mayor said, “That’s just the way it should be – this is the day for all these children.”
Children were called up in groups of three, with frogs brought from ponds, or using frogs provided by the volunteers and sponsors. Every kid who came had a frog for the jumping contest.
Some frogs jumped like kangaroos. Some jumped like a dead possum.
Austin Rayburn, 5, named his frog “Cam Newton” for the Carolina Panthers quarterback. Cam Newton jumped like he plays – Cam Newton the frog was sacked. Cam Newton didn’t jump more than a few feet.
Colin Hart, 8, found a frog under the porch that he had stalked for a year. It jumped – but not far.
Waiting in the line was the Ligons and the Bells and the Suttons, three families of jumpers for so long that the father Sutton competed decades ago as a little kid.
Reigning frog jump champ Xander Sutton, 5, had a huge bullfrog caught just for the jump. He wore sunglasses because he is a star and the defending champ and had to look cool.
His sister Jesse, 7, had a big fat slimy frog, too, as did Whitney Bell, 3, and her sister Sydney, 7. Allison Ligon, 2, with her 7-year-old sister Jenna. Carolina Vaughan, the big girl at 10 were prepared. Their frogs looked huge and ready for hopping.
Near the beginning of the event a tiny little girl with flaming red hair, 1-year-old Olivia Kiehn, seemed to hop after her frog. She hopped because her giant red-haired father, Dave, hopped her by holding her and hopping so fast and furious that Olivia’s shoe fell off.
“He’s competitive – I tried to get it all on video,” said Ellen Kiehn with a laugh, the wife and mom who watched her husband hop with the daughter and the frog.
Tiny Jack Mahan, 3, clapped and stomped to get his frog to jump. It did – a little. Grace Sturgis, 10, stomped until she, um, stomped a little bit on the frog. Bubbles survived with minor injuries.
As these tiny kids jumped their frogs, so many parents jumped and hopped, and sprawled and cajoled, and urged and begged the frogs to move.
Near the end Xander Sutton, the reigning champ, stood in first place with a jump of 47 feet. Tiny Whitney Bell was second at 43 feet. They seemed shoo-ins for glory.
Then came Sara Grace Melton, fresh from soccer practice, blonde hair flying.
Herman, her bullfrog caught in a Chester pond by her father armed with a net and courage, did not so much jump as soar straight down the green carpet. Herman just leaped and bounded and did not stop and Sara chased after Herman and did not stop until Herman was an astounding 59 feet from the starting line.
A couple dozen jumpers remained, but none could touch Sara Grace Melton and Herman.
In her first-ever interview, Sara Grace showed grace. She said she was proud to win her trophy with such a fine frog as Herman.
The trophy is gold, and green, and is a frog.
“I love it,” she said.
The new star of the Mayor’s Frog Jump, with what might be a record jump, then walked off hugging her trophy.
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065 • firstname.lastname@example.org