Joel Talley leaves nothing to the last minute anymore when it comes to the annual Mayor's Frog Jump.
Not when he has had years when restaurants and biology classes bought almost all the jumping frogs in America, and the Come-See-Me event -- great because adults are roped off like cattle and kept from spoiling the fun -- almost had no contestants for kids to jump.
In 2001, a shipment of frogs came in by United Parcel Service with just a few hours to spare, saving the Mayor's Frog Jump from having to use actual politicians to jump around. The story made the news in Australia.
Another year, the shipment came, and more than half the frogs were dead.
Another year, there was a thunderstorm -- complete with hail as big as tadpoles -- during the jump. But even the weather can't stop the frog jump.
As the organizer of the Mayor's Frog Jump, set for Saturday morning at Cherry Park, Talley received the box of jumpers through package delivery late Tuesday night.
"We ordered 36, got 36, but two were dead, so we have 34," Talley said.
His kids, like every year, have been given the most important job in Rock Hill -- security detail charged with keeping the frogs alive until Saturday. Lesley Talley, 10, and little sister, Alivia, 8, have their own job description: "Frog keepers!"
Talley's day job is wireless manager for Comporium Communications, and for 11 years he has volunteered with the frog jump along with Comporium's Tiffany Thompson.
Talley has told frog suppliers so often since 2001 to "ship whatever you got, as long as it ain't a pollywog or tadpole" -- but this year's jumpers are perfect athletes.
Green. Slimy. Ornery.
Kind of like politicians in that regard.
"For years now, I have sweated it out waiting for the frogs to get here, and they are here," Talley said. "I breathe easy now. The frogs, we just work to keep them breathing until Saturday.
"We put 'em in the sun during the day to get the blood hot, then pray at night it doesn't get too cold."
The event is one of the biggest spectacles at Come-See-Me, a signature event people don't get at other festivals and fairs. Outside Calaveras County, Calif., home of the biggest jump of them all made famous by Mark Twain a century and a half ago, Rock Hill's frog jump might be the biggest in the country.
The winner gets a big trophy of a frog and $50 in a gift card to blow on candy, junk food, but no clothes. It is a great trophy: One scoundrel even tried to steal it.
In 2007, a mendacious malingerer lied about his age, told Talley he was 11 years old, and came in last place out of 223 entrants.
The villain, booed lustily by the crowd that smelled a rat, even tried to bribe the little kid who won by waving $20 bill.
That nefarious rapscallion was me.
The kid, an honest lad, spurned the money and kept his trophy that is so coveted that some kids are brought in by family from other states. Kids are urged to go to ponds and creeks and mud holes and find their own jumpers.
Some families, like the Westbrooks of Rock Hill, will have a frog roundup tonight just before the big jump, so that the frogs are fresh. Others like the DiFrancescos raise frogs from tadpoles, then put the frogs through rigorous training -- without the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
"We sure urge people to bring their own frogs, but we have enough so all kids who want to jump can jump," Talley said. "But when frogs have to jump four or five times, they probably get tired.
"We do have a tub -- a frogpen -- where we keep them fresh."
The only rules are no pushing or prodding by touch. You can coax a frog, cajole a frog, make empty promises to a frog. You can kiss a frog, but not during the jump.
Politicians will be on hand to give examples of how to try to get a frog to do what you want by offering much and delivering little or nothing.
All entrants get a gift bag, but more than that, they get fun. It is all free.
Plus, even better than California's big frog jump, no adults are allowed. Politicians cannot even jump.
Over age 12, you have to watch and cheer.
Want to go?
What: Come-See-Me Mayor's Frog Jump ("The big ribbit," said Talley.)
Where: Cherry Park, 1466 Cherry Road, Rock Hill ("Follow the frogs," said Talley.)
When: Saturday at 10:30 a.m., registration at 10
Who: All kids 12 and under ("And no cheaters," said Talley.)