It probably wasn’t obvious to the eye, but Sunday’s amphibious champion of the International Frog Jump Finals was a trained professional.
It was selected from a pool of 300 frogs gathered by the Gustine Frog Jump Team a week in advance of the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee from various ponds in the San Joaquin Valley and underwent mock trial exercises.
It proved to be superior enough to pass an evaluation that determined how the frogs looked, felt and jumped. Bob Fasano of the Gustine team said it would have been removed from the pool of competitors if it didn’t jump straight.
It was part of the top 80 competitors the team took to the fair. On Sunday, it was No. 1.
Justin Fasano took the International Frog Jump championship Sunday at the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee when his frog “Kermit” jumped 18 feet, nine and three-quarter inches Sunday.
He was one of five other members of the Gustine Frog Jump Team to place within the top seven. He led the way for the team that swept the top three finishes during the annual frog jump extravaganza.
The showing came at a time of great importance for the Gustine team, a perennial power that recently experienced a championship drought. It was the 60th anniversary of the squad started decades ago by the deceased Gene Fasano and Frank Borrelli.
“It seemed as if some higher power was at play today,” said Bob Fasano, who finished third Sunday.
Justin Fasano, 19, said he has been frog jumping for his whole life. The Morgan Hill native who is currently attending San Diego State to study pre business said he caught 150 frogs leading up to the jubilee.
“I went every day,” he said.
It was a nerve wracking sequence for Justin Fasano Sunday. Placed among the top six qualifiers entering the finals, he knew he had to beat 18 feet and two inches with his frog. He did. The final four jumpers however, all qualified Friday or Saturday with lengths further than his. He feared his mark would be topped.
“I was more nervous after I jumped than before,” Justin Fasano said.
Afterward, the sense of relief could have been felt from the steer pens. Not only was it the first title for the squad that fared poorly the year prior in more than a decade, it was the first time Justin Fasano has placed inside the top seven.
“The fair used to give out an award for the eighth place finish,” Justin Fasano said. “I got eighth one year.”
Despite the victory, Justin Fasano’s length was not far enough to break a 31-year-old frog jump record held by Lee Guidici. His frog “Rosie the Ribbiter” jumped 21 feet, five and three-quarter inches in 1986.
The lengths were reflective of a theme that has been common throughout frog jump qualifications earlier in the week: frogs were not jumping as far in 2017. The cutoff to qualify was around 13 feet, seven inches. Typically, qualification cutoff, which ebbs and flows based on competition, is around 15 feet.
The temperature around the time frog jumping began Sunday was about 91 degrees Fahrenheit, a heat Bob Fasano thought would have set up for an opportunity to break the record.
It seemed as if it was a little warmer than what would have been necessary to exceed Rosie’s jump. Ron Dwelley, special events director for the fair, said a few weeks ago the ideal temperature to break the record is between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.