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Competing for jumping prestige, history

SELECTING TOP JUMPERS - Three former Gage Marine employees watched every move of the six candidates vying for the top jumper position last Thursday morning. On board the U.S. Mailboat, the judges focused on personalities, ability to make the jumps onto the pier and back and their performances when it came to reading the tour. When all was said and done, second-year jumper Ryan Hall, Lake Geneva, finished first. One newcomer, Oliver Pringle, Barrington, Ill., and experienced jumpers Elle Vogt and Anna Bartz, both of Burlington, tied for second. All will be jumpers on the Mailboat this summer. "It was a really tough decision this year," Gage General Manager Harold Friestad said. "It was a wonderful day full of excitement with a strong field of jumpers." Friestad said judges aren't always used, but this time he knew it would be a real competition. Hall was pleased about his finish, especially after being so nervous last year during the tryouts. "Last year, I was nervous as all get out," he said. "I had butterflies in the stomach. But, this year, now that I knew what I was doing, I just had to dust off the shoes from last fall." However, he never considered finishing first. "I didn't think I would make first," he said. "I just wanted to come back, have fun today and hopefully make the team again." But, it was Pringle who impressed many. "This is the first time a rookie came on and beat them out," Friestad said. "I kind of thought that might happen." During the jumping portion of the competition, Gage Marine owner Bill Gage, who watched from the piers cheering the jumpers on, said he thought the rookie would make it. When Friestad made the announcement, Pringle appeared surprised and admitted being a jumper was "a dream come true." Shauna Riggs, Burlington, Jennifer Gratzl, Burlington and Mike Schlieting, Williams Bay, will be the alternates.
June 16, 2010 | 09:09 AM
Most part-time summer jobs don't require a two-hour tryout.

Typically, the effort to obtain summer employment includes responding to a help wanted sign posted in a storefront window or an ad in the newspaper. An interview follows and you either land the position or you don't.

But this isn't your typical summer gig.

It's one of the most prestigious and recognized summer positions in all of Lake Geneva — the U.S. Mailboat jumper for Gage Marine.

Last Thursday, five experienced jumpers and one rookie took on the tryout challenge to determine who would be this summer's celebrities on the U.S. Mailboat.

"When I tell people my summer job, they say, 'Oh, you are? I have wanted to do that my whole life,'" said Ryan Hall, top finisher in the tryout. "Then, they ask me all about it."

Mike Schlieting, a full-time employee of Gage Marine, who jumps in the final days of the season when the regular jumpers go back to high school or college, said it's a special position.

"That first time, you are standing on the pier wondering what the heck you are doing, but you are on the water and it is absolutely gorgeous," he said. "Essentially, it is the best summer job you can have."

Every day at 10 a.m., the U.S. Mailboat embarks on a 2-1/2-hour cruise around Geneva Lake. The jumper on board that day is the star of the show.

"I think it's the celebrity as much as anything," said U.S. Mailboat Capt. Neill Frame, who has been driving the boat for 40 years. "You are performing before a sellout boat every day."

As the 60-ton boat maneuvers around the lake close to the shoreline, jumpers leap from the boat to the pier and back delivering mail to dozens of lakefront homes. In between the deliveries, the jumper must also read the script, which describes the homes and history of the Geneva Lake area.

"A lot of the kids can do the jumps and handle the ropes, but the tour is two-part," Frame said. "That is our stock and trade, the history and the presentation. They have to make it interesting because the trip lasts 2-1/2 hours."

The job can include some pressure.

"It's 150 people all watching you do everything," Schlieting said.

Last year, he said he slipped on the pier and it seemed as though all 150 people gasped when it happened.

"You get to be out on the water every day and interact with people on the pier and in the boat," Hall said. "It is a lot of fun. I like to meet all the people on the boat every day. I used to live in Illinois and there were three groups that came up last years from the town where I used to live. It was great."

In recent years, Mailboat jumpers also have been part of television, magazine and newspaper features all across the country. Last year, jumper Elle Vogt performed and then gave advice to Travel Channel's Andrew Zimmern on his jumps for the Mailboat feature on his "Bizarre World" television show.

It's not just about prestige and publicity.

Being a Mailboat jumper is historic and unique.

"It's Lake Geneva and it's something original and different that you can't find anywhere else in the world," Schlieting said.

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