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JUST WIN, FLIPPY

CATAWBA -- There are frog catchers who want to win frog jumping's highest prize Saturday, and there are people like me willing to cheat to win a frog jump. Then there's Sophie DiFrancesco.

Not only did Sophie win the Come-See-Me Mayor's Frog Jump two years ago at the tender age of 4, without cheating, and thus propelling herself into stardom among frog jumpers, Sophie this year as a grizzled geezer of 6 years old has upped the ante even higher.

She raised her own frog for Saturday's jump.

"Flippy," Sophie said. "Flippy the frog. Likes crickets. Not likes as in friends. Likes to eat them."

From a tadpole, caught in a nearby pond, this frog Flippy has been pampered and pushed and prodded for almost two years for one reason: to stomp the competition and bring home the coveted green frog trophy. A rite of spring in Rock Hill that is far more important than other outdoor sports.

No green sports jacket like the snobby Masters golf tournament that just ended Sunday. Golf is loved by those who ache for boredom and love to thumb their nose at us poor frog jumping masses. Golf fans talk about miles per gallon. The Masters champ, whoever it was and nobody making less than $50,000 a year will ever care, is not an athlete. Athletes do not wear plaid pants and sweater vests. Athletes do not use caddies.

Sophie DiFrancesco, frog trainer, frog jumper, is an athlete. She wears a plaid dress and uses no frog caddie. She grabs her slimy frog with her own two hands.

Little brother David DiFrancesco, just 3, didn't raise a frog, but he will jump Saturday, too.

"I didn't win last year," he said. "But I was little then. I was just 2."

Now that's an athlete: Talking trash, pre-game.

Bugs at this training table

This American Bullfrog Flippy has trained for months, been fed the best in bugs and worms and more, just for Saturday. It wasn't easy getting Flippy ready for Saturday. At the home of Debbi and Dom DiFrancesco, if it walks, crawls, flies or jumps, they probably have one kind of that animal. But that also means something else in the house might eat you.

Sophie's 2006 champ, Elizabeth, choked to death eating one of the crawfish in the fish tank. Flippy has so far during training avoided strangulation, asphyxiation or the talons and beaks of the macaws and other birds in the house.

"Flippy, he grew faster than his brother and sister frogs," Dom said. "So he ate them."

I asked Sophie if there is anything Flippy won't eat.

"He didn't like Dad's meatballs," Sophie said.

Dom, a chef, just a couple weeks ago was on the "Hell's Kitchen" Fox TV show. Only to get booted the first show because he was too darn nice. Dom is a stay-at-home Christian dad whose kids love him dearly for good reason, and here he was on TV with a bunch of back-stabbing rascals who cursed and chain-smoked and plotted his demise.

Dom is a saint, and the others on the show are just like mes.

Well, Dom is nice, but I suggested if Flippy doesn't win, Flippy might end up as frog legs on Dom's home menu.

"Gross," Sophie said.

Always remember the cheater

Last year, I tried to cheat at the frog jump when I told judges I was 11 years old and entered the kids' race. I also unsuccessfully tried to bribe the winner with a $20 bill. But little kids such as Sophie and David and their big sister Lanie, who can't jump this year because of a Girl Scout camp, know better than to let scalawags like me ruin their fun.

Dom made sure of it, too.

"Sophie, honey, you remember this guy from last year, he's the one who tried to win even though he was too old," Dom told his daughter Monday.

She looked at me with disdain. Scorn. She remembered.

Athletes never forget.

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