Hallsville Heritage Days participants enjoy watching turtles race, frogs jump

Saturday, June 21, 2014 | 8:23 p.m. CDT; updated 10:34 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 21, 2014

COLUMBIA — If you want a turtle to run fast, you need to cheer it on, said Abby Leer, one of many children who attended the Hallsville Heritage Days turtle race and frog jump contests.

"Whenever you race them, just like say 'Go, go, go, turtle,' Abby, 8, said.

"The girls really enjoy going and hunting for their turtles and watching them race," Lori Leer, Abby's mother, said.

The Leers have been coming to the Heritage Days and competing in the turtle races off-and-on for nine years, Lori Leer said.

Children ranging in age from 1 to 15 entered their turtles and frogs into the competitions. Although some of the children bring their own pet turtles or frogs, others catch wild turtles and frogs to bring to the race. After the competition, some are released back into the wild and a few are kept as pets. Abby found her turtle, Speedy, along a highway and said she planned to release it after the race.

There were more than 100 turtles entered into the turtle race — divided into one division for box turtles and one for all other turtles — and about 25 frogs in the frog jump. The non-box turtles all live in water and could only be let out of their containers for the race, race chairwoman Elaine George said.

The turtle races started with heats of five turtles. The winner of each heat advanced further in the competition until the field was narrowed to two turtles.

Both events took place in a chalked circle on the floor of the Bob LeMone building at the Hallsville Fairgrounds. The circle is about 10 feet in diameter. Turtles are placed in the center of the circle, kept there until race time by a red ring.

Carley Homes, 8, waited with her hands over her mouth for the start of the championship. The two turtles vying for the title  were already in the middle of the circle.

One of the race chairs, Kyle George, lifted the ring and the turtles began to make their way toward the chalked, outer edge of the circle. About a minute later, cheers and applause filled the building and Carley's face stretched into a smile as she watched her turtle reach the edge first, winning the race. Carley's prize for having the quickest box turtle was a small gray ceramic turtle.

After the turtle race came the frog jump competition. Children placed their frogs in the center of the circle one at a time. The frogs were allowed three leaps, and then the distance they traveled was marked off. The amphibians weren't trained to stop after three leaps, so each competitor had to be chased down by a group of giggling children. The winning frog jumped about 9 feet.

The turtle race and frog jump have been a part of the Hallsville Heritage Days since the fair began 19 years ago. More than 100 people attended the two competitions Saturday.

Elaine George, the founder of the turtle race and frog jump, said she got the idea from another small town fair. "My kids enjoyed it so much that I thought other kids would enjoy it, too," George said.

For Elaine George, participating in these events has been a family affair.

"My kids did this and my grandkids did this and now my great-grandchild is going to," George said.

The winners of the competitions received either a ceramic turtle or frog, and all participants received ribbons. George said "Everyone is a winner here."

The Hallsville Heritage Days fair, which started Thursday and will end Sunday, also has events such as a barbecue contest, a mud volleyball tournament, a washers tournament and a tractor pull.

Supervising editor is Samuel Hardiman.

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