By Richard Sayer
“Do you want to start him or do you want me to?,” asks a bearded man looking over his shoulder as he kneels among 60-some odd children. He’s speaking to a very young girl who shyly peaks out from behind her mom’s leg while holding tightly, with all her might, onto Mom’s hand.
The young girl quickly turns her head away, hiding from the man, Jim Hoover of Conneautville, who is holding onto a frog — a frog that looks calm and almost gentlemanly, even appearing to smile as the giant man waves him around showing him off to the crowd before placing him on the starting line.
The little girl is the bashful, somewhat afraid owner of the frog, one caught in a nearby pond by her brother or father earlier that day. She turns back to watch with at least one of her eyes, but still clinging tight to Mom.
The frog, an athlete in a test of his abilities as a leaper, is about to show off his talents to more than 100 children and their families in an arena constructed out of a 4- by 8-foot sheet of plywood with 2-foot high sides open on each end. It’s painted in a variety of blues and greens to look like idyllic pond water. Surrounded by Hoover’s giant hands, poised and ready (or at least we think he is) the frog readies himself to leap for all he is worth once Hoover lifts his hands from around him. The crowd, of mostly young boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 12 are excited and nudging themselves as close to the track as they can to see the frog perhaps break records.