Warning: Don't jump to conclusions. Read this entire story.
By TRAVIS REED
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
SALEM -- Mason Hamilton is a young man with a determined look in his eye.
Friday night, he and his father tromped through lakes at the Salem Hills Golf Course with flashlights and nets and ended up with a bucketload of frogs.
After a brief evaluation of the frogs' jumping prowess, Mason, 5, and his father, Chris, kept the three with the biggest springs.
Two of them hopped away Saturday morning.
Mason, 5, spent the half-hour or so before the Lions Club frog jump Saturday afternoon pulling out his bullfrog, War Eagle, and ferrying him around so everyone could see him.
He put him back in a big, red cooler, hefting a smaller cooler on top of it, only to repeat the same proud, laborious display anytime someone new came by.
Mason is a man of few words, letting his parents, of Salem, field most of the questions while he fiddled with the amphibian.
However, he spoke up to explain two things: His middle name is Demitrius and his father does not hold the frogs right. Too tight, he said. At that moment, though, he didn't have the time or patience to show him the right way.
Twice, when Mason was showing War Eagle to other people assembled in the municipal parking lot for the big frog jump to benefit the Lions Club, the frog hopped away. Mason scrambled after it unsuccessfully. His dad was able to scoop up the frog.
Checking out the competition
Ryan Funk, 8, of Damascus, stopped by with his frog, Big Joe. He agreed to put it down by Mason's frog as long as it was ensured that War Eagle wouldn't eat Joe.
Ryan caught his frog in his back yard. He calls it Big Joe because the frog's belly hangs to the ground. He selected this particular frog to be his summer pet for the same reason. Big Joe, actually a toad, is roughly one-fifth the size of War Eagle.
Ryan feeds Big Joe bugs he catches and likes to watch his belly glow after he swallows lightning bugs.
He wants to make very clear that toads do not spread warts "if they pee on you."
He has kept a toad for about three summers now and has been peed on lots.
Ryan carried Big Joe around in a plastic container with a white handle, where he used to keep a crab and a lizard before they died.
He stopped at a Marine recruiting stand to show off Big Joe. There, he received the horrific news, and only 15 minutes before the jump.
Big Joe is a girl.
Undaunted, Ryan insisted on keeping the name.
Now, the race was finally starting, and several kids with plastic containers and sun-squinted eyes listen to a man from the Lions Club explain the rules.
The frog who travels farthest in three jumps will be the winner.
The man introduces several local politicians -- there to do the judging -- and explains that during the jump, all of them have the title "Honest" preceding their names.
There is nothing in the world more hopeless, maddening and irresponsible than a crooked frog-jump judge.
The contestants ran in heats of 10 and there was a "grand finale" at the end, pitting the winners of the heats against one another.
Ryan and Mason were in the first heat. Mason's frog was slow at first, but hopped a good distance with some gentle nudging.
Ryan's, er, frog hardly moved.
That was it. They were both finished.
A girl won their heat.