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‘Huck Hopper’ game with education featured on ABC

By EDDIE TRIZZINO

Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va.  – Fairmont native Jesse Gerken sent in his invention to ABC show “The Toy Box” just to see what would happen.

He thought it was a prank when a producer called inviting him to be on the show.

Jesse Gerken credits his daughter, Ari, with coming up with the idea for Huck Hopper when she was 4 years old. Now 10 years old, she poses with the game in its current state.
(Submitted photo)

“I submitted it, and I didn’t really expect that they were gonna call me an hour later, and that kind of turned the heat up,” Gerken said. “They were on it. I thought it was a joke, one of those prank calls. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, OK.’”

Gerken appeared on episode six of season two of the nationally broadcast program, hosted by Eric Stonestreet, to demonstrate his game, “Huck Hopper,” to a panel of kids to see if his toy made the cut.

“Let’s bring in Jesse. He’s a toymaker. He’s all the way from West Virginia. Jesse, come on in,” Stonestreet said, introducing Gerken on the show.

While Gerken was excited to show off his toy to the kids and the viewers, he was just as excited just for the experience, and even got to show off his harmonica chops.

“I got to play harmonica on the show; the kids were really excited,” Gerken said, looking back on his time on the show.

Gerken explained the game’s rules to the kids and audience before the excited panel got their hands on the game.

Players spin a wheel to determine the amount of frogs they fling into five holes on a vertical board. If the spinner lands on “Swamp Card,” they have to answer a question relating to subjects like math, history and science.

Gerken explained how the game came to fruition.

A few years ago Gerken took his daughter Ari from Chuck E. Cheese back home, but the 4-year-old didn’t want to be done playing. The two cut holes in a shoe box and began popping a frog toy she won at the arcade into the holes in the box.

“I thought, ‘Well, that’s pretty cool.’ So we went to the dollar store and she got some paint and stickers, and she decorated it all up, and they had frog stickers so she started putting them all over the box,” Gerken said.

Over the next six years, they developed the game and its frog characters making it as educational as it is competitive. Because Gerken’s name was almost Huckleberry, his daughter decided to call it “Huck Hopper.”

“We took an interactive game but added education to it, and that’s where it’s filling the void now,” Gerken said. “It can be played just for fun, or you can add in these expansion packs and that way if you’re kid is doing bad in math you can throw the math cards into it.”

While the kids on the show had fun shooting the frogs through the holes, the trivia had them stumped, to Gerken’s chagrin.

“It was like some last-minute stuff when I was changing up the Swamp Cards, so it was the day before I got on a plane to L.A., I picked up the cards from Morgantown, and got on the plane and realized when I got there the cards were a little out of the age group for the kid judges. I was expecting fourth- and fifth-graders and I get there and they are like kindergartners,” Gerken said.

Though it caused Gerken a bit of a panic, the on-screen result gave him a laugh.

“When they pull the card it says ‘name four continents,’ and it was really funny when they said, ‘Um, San Francisco, Canada,’” Gerken said.

The kids played the game with Gerken, flinging frogs into the holes with clips of interviews with the kids interspersed between. While the younger kids under age 9 weren’t very thrilled with its difficulty, the oldest at age 11 found it enjoyable.

When play time was over, the panel members gave Gerken their feedback. The four youngest judges voted “no” to Huck Hopper, while Gerken garnered one “yes” from the oldest judge.

Though he did not make it on to the next round, Gerken commented that it was still a fond experience.

“I never thought it would make it as far as it did,” Gerken said.

And though making it onto a national broadcast was big for Gerken, he still just enjoys playing the game with Ari, now age 10, and helping other inventors out with patents, branding and advertising of their own with his company, Hillbilly Edison. He also manages to sell and distribute the games and toys he creates, helping Huck Hopper to gain some popularity.

“I had them available online but I was getting more orders than I really wanted to mess with on a small volume, so I started backing off and just making it simply by request,” he said.

Gerken is also attending this year’s Chicago Toy and Game expo to network with companies like Hasbro and Mattel.

“It’s getting ready to get really big really quickly,” Gerken said.

More information about Gerken and Hillbilly Edison can be found on his website at hillbillyedison.com

Email Eddie Trizzino at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @eddietimeswv.

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