By BOBBY PEPPER
PRATTS – The rain Saturday morning may not been ideal for people, but it was perfect for racing frogs.
The frogs and their human handlers overcame the soggy conditions to compete in the 25th annual Froglevel Festival and the frog races in the Lee County community of Pratts. And though the day’s activities include a 5K run, entertainment and games, the festival highlight is the noon races in the Frog Arena.
“We started it 25 years ago and we've been going strong ever since,” said L.R. Burcham, founder of the frog race. “We have a lot of fun out here.”
Frogs play a role in the history of Pratts, located five miles east of Baldwyn. Pratts was once called Froglevel, reportedly inspired by the level land and the loud croaking frogs in the community.
When the Pratts community council organized the festival, Burcham thought a frog race would make it an unique event.
“I came up with the idea that we were going to have a live frog race,” Burcham, 77, said. “My wife told me I was crazy.
“That first year, we drew off a 20-foot ring and put all the frogs in it. That was chaos. I decided after that we needed some kind of organized ring.”
Burcham built the Frog Arena, a circular ring divided into six equal sections. This year, 30 children and six adults stepped into the arena this year to see who's frogs were the fastest. When there’s a large group of competitors, they’re split into groups with the fastest frogs advancing to the final.
Even though Saturday morning's showers forced most of the festival activities into the Pratts Community Center, Burcham was determined to run the frog race as scheduled. “A lot of children brought their frogs,” he said. “The children really enjoy this.”
One woman who raced frogs as a child, Tabitha Russell, participated Saturday with her 3-week-old daughter, Kalianna Russell. Clutching Kalianna in her left arm, Tabitha used her right to hold the stick used to tap the ground behind the frog, encouraging it to hop toward the finish line.
Tabitha said she and her husband Adam were raised in the Pratts area, and the frog race is a tradition for them. As for Kalianna’s frog race debut, mom was proud.
“I think she did real good,” Tabitha said. “She was at least awake.”
Katelyn Dugger, 10, of Baldwyn said it takes work to find the right frog that can cover the 20-foot lane quicker than the others.
“We look around creeks and lakes,” she said. “I look for big toad frogs.”
Phyllis Scott, who picked up her third adult division victory Saturday, said a last-day search for a frog works for her.
“You make sure you get it the night before,” said Scott, who hasn't missed a Froglevel Festival frog race. “He needs to be fresh.”