Set to go toad to toad at Woodland Planters Days

Woodland family’s history, friendly rivalries come to play in frog-jumping contest

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

Published:

 

Woodland Planters Days 2017

• When: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. today; 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

• Featuring: Paddlesports, carnival, food, games, talent show, car and military vehicles shows, bed races.

• Parade: 11 a.m. Saturday at Horseshoe Lake Park

• 50th annual frog jump: 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Horseshoe Lake Park

• Where: Downtown and vicinity, including Horseshoe Lake Park, City Hall, Moose Lodge, Hoffman Plaza, Davidson Avenue, Woodland Community Center and Woodland High School.

• Schedule and information: www.planters-days.com, 360-225-9988

Did You Know?

• A frog contest had everything to do with Mark Twain’s first renown as a writer, which occurred not long after the end of the Civil War: “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was published in The Saturday Press in November 1865, just before Twain’s 30th birthday. The tall tale describes gambling and dirty dealing during a frog-jumping contest during the California Gold Rush.

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Walt Hansen Sr. has jumped along to some great lily pad in the sky. We’re sure that Woodland, and Walt’s beloved woods, will never be the same.

But Walter Hansen Jr., and Walter Hansen III, do not intend to let one of the proudest Hansen family traditions disappear. The afternoon of June 17, after the pancake breakfast, the big parade and the firemen’s barbecue, all available Hansens will hop over to Horseshoe Lake Park in order to host the 50th annual frog-jumping contest.

“We’re going to keep doing it as long as we’re still croaking,” Walter Jr. vowed.

Woodland’s 95th annual Planters Days celebration is always a big, boisterous, carefully planned and scheduled occasion — stuffed full of games and contests, carnival rides and that parade, classic car and military vehicle shows, a rock band on the night of June 17 and a community talent show on the afternoon of June 18 — but the frog-jumping contest is simply a hoot.

“There are no rules,” said Walter Junior. “Well, maybe there are a few rules.”

• Rule No. 1, he said, is that it’s all in good fun. Anybody who takes a frog-jumping contest seriously deserves what they get — which might well be frog poop on your hands.

• Rule No 2: Frogs should be caught in local ponds — and returned to local ponds. “We don’t eat them. We don’t keep them. We put them back,” Walter Jr. said.

Store-bought ringers are frowned upon. It’s easy to tell a wild frog from a frog that came from a pet shop, Walter Jr. said. “We keep our eye on those,” he said skeptically. Beautiful, pampered, high-society frogs are OK for jumping, he conceded, but they’re definitely disqualified from the frog beauty contest.

• Rule No. 3: Yes, there’s a frog beauty contest. All frogs (except those ringers covered by rule No. 2) will be adjudicated for the following bragging rights: prettiest, ugliest, biggest and smallest.

• Rule No. 4: Each frog takes three jumps from a dead stop on a platform. “We drop a quarter where they land,” Walter Jr. said. Judges tally up the distance covered. (The fourth jump is often when frogs really start to get into this event, Walter Jr. said; alas, that fourth jump is never measured. But, he added: “You should see everybody chasing frogs all over the place” once their little green athletes decide to go for glory.)

The Woodland Planters Days Official All-Time Frog Jumping Contest Record is 159 inches, Hansen reported; it was set in 1992 by Bryan Cole. By Bryan Cole’s frog, that is.

“If somebody breaks that record, they’ll get $50,” Hansen said.

Hallowed history

While the Hansen family’s long, sticky tongue is firmly inside its cheek about this annual frog-jumping business, there’s a nugget of serious history here.

For one thing, the late Walt Hansen Sr. — long known to many by the affectionate nickname “Walt of the Woods” — took out Donna, his wife-to-be, on their first date to Woodland’s Planters Day festival, so you could say their whole dynasty (dozens of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren) began at that annual occasion. And Walt Sr. went on to have everything to do with Woodland — serving on numerous town committees, lobbying for historical recognition for key local sites like the Cedar Creek Grist Mill and the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens, and reliably playing the role of watchdog and gadfly at city council meetings. He lived near Woodland (in the Hayes neighborhood) all his life and was the area’s acknowledged historical expert. He was named Woodland’s Citizen of the Year in 2013.

And, of course, he served on the Planters Day committee for 60-plus years and launched the frog jump, which he ran for 47. The frog jump got its start because he was involved with local Cub Scouts and eager to create reasons “for fathers and sons to get out of the house and do something together,” Walter Jr. said.

“At first it was just fathers and sons,” he said. “Now it’s moms and dads and aunts and uncles and everybody.”

Donna Hansen died in 2010, and Walter Hansen Sr. died early in 2016 at age 86.

Local pride

Look out for some celebrity appearances at this historic, 50th annual frog-jumping contest. Walter Jr. said he’s confirmed that living legends Scott Powell and Ted Thoeny, the two first winners of the contest, will both be on hand June 17 to lap up the crowd’s adoration.

He also expects several dynasties to show up gunning for goofiness. The Morgans, the Bucks, the Manrings and the Autreys are among the longtime local clans who’ve handed the tradition down, generation by generation. They take this frog-jumping contest about as seriously as, well, about as seriously as a frog-jumping contest should be taken.

“Oh it’s quite the rivalry,” said the tongue-cheeked Walter Jr. “They bring their grandkids.”