Camp Leapfrog: The New Mutants of the US Indies (The Comic, Not The Movie)

Camp Leapfrog
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There’s a strange coincidence that, in August of 2020, Marvel finally released the film New Mutants and High Tension Wrestling launched Camp Leafrog (23rd and 18th respectively). In the Marvel Comics, the squad known as the New Mutants are the younger trainees of the more popular team of Marvel mutants, X-Men. While they have their own storylines, their regular stars, and a pantheon of one-off or unknown stars that have sometimes organically become much bigger stars, it takes them longer to make the “mainstream” than their X-Men counterparts.

In many ways, Camp Leapfrog has become the “New Mutants” of the CHIKARA Universe, with an exciting new program on (IWTV) that is largely based around many of the younger and/or smaller stars from the now-defunct CHIKARA promotion, which ran from 2002 until it’s closing in 2020 following serious allegations of abuse against founder Mike Quackenbush. With their school and promotion now disgraced, a cast of promising young wrestlers seemingly had their identities and careers swiftly erased, through no fault of their own. But the announcement in the summer of 2020, following the June closure of CHIKARA, of Camp Leapfrog gave a shining sliver of hope that many of the lesser-known or niche characters would live on.

Filmed on August 16, 2020, in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania, the first Camp Leapfrog production debuted on IWTV on September 2, 2020. The bulk of the cast was a surprisingly delightful roster featuring many of the unknown soldiers from CHIKARA (plus a few of its well-known niche characters), many of whom were highly touted prospects in the past couple seasons of CHIKARA’s run. It featured such longtime stars as Desean Pratt (better known in CHIKARA as Amasis of the Osirian Portal), Cajun Crawdad, and Hermit Crab, but a healthy dose of the top younger stars, such as Still Life With Apricots & Pears, Travis Huckabee, Boomer Hatfield, Devantes, Molly McCoy, Matt Makowski, Green Ant, and Thief Ant. It wasn’t all CHIKARA alumni though, as it featured Ring of Honor‘s Cheeseburger. and Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) veteran Violence, and other rising indie performers like Calvin Couture, Vita Von Starr, Killian McMurphy, and tag team Oreo Speedwagon (Joshua Wells & Xavier Faraday).

The premise of Camp Leapfrog is simple. It’s a summer camp (that has extended long past those dog days) run by High Tension Wrestling, where promising young wrestling prospects come, complete with counselors and crafts tables. This camp in small-town Pennsylvania (Sinking Spring has a population just over 4000 people), just west of Reading, and an hour from Philadelphia, is removed from big city life, much like Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in small-town New York (Salem Center, with just over 5000 people). Also, much like the New Mutants, its cast of performers show greater diversity than its bigger squad, with women competing equally alongside men, as well as featuring wrestlers of multiple ethnicities and gender identities. It’s a summer camp for anyone and everyone – as long as you’re over the top and ready to wrestle!

Camp Leapfrog is the brainchild of indie referee Kris Levin – known affectionately as Kid Ref. Levin has become a staple on the US indie scene, where he refs in multiple promotions such as Game Changer Wrestling (GCW), ICW No Holds Barred, and others, and had stints as an official with IMPACT Wrestling and Major League Wrestling (MLW). “So I’m working on writing my first book and it’s an encyclopedia of pro wrestling movies,” he told IWTV’s Sam Laterna on Wrestle Tea. “And I’ve been doing nothing but binge-watching tons of movies, from like wild ones from like the 30s and 40s, to Santo movies in the 60s and 70s, and seeing how all of these different integrations of professional wrestling mixed with cinematic efforts was really inspiring to me, as a storyteller, thinking ‘How can we take this to another level?’ now that we have so much room to experiment with our own craft, with just everything going on in the world. It was really like a perfect storm, cause High Tension Wrestling hit me up and they were looking to do – they were running their first event in May, but then Covid happened and they had to postpone everything, so they had an itch to run a show. And then, with everything that happened over the last few months [with CHIKARA], there was a ton of younger talent who were looking for an outlet, not only to wrestle but to be social and interact and see their friends and get out of the house. And all of this happens while I’m doing a watch through of As Told By Ginger, a cartoon from the late 90s, early 2000s, yeah its incredible, and there was an episode called “Season of Caprice” that takes place, it’s like two or three episodes where it’s all at a summer camp. I was like ‘Wow, this is so much fun!’ and such a great experience, it had me so happy just watching it. I was like ‘We can do something like this.’ And then everything fell together perfectly.”

“The one thing that was really my biggest inspiration behind the actual narrative, though, was the recent purchase of EVOLVE by WWE,” he continued. “Because you have like this ‘little indie that could’ kinda feel, this homegrown promotion with all these incredible underground talent, and WWE comes along and purchases them. Which is fine, that’s business. So I kind of had the idea that ‘What would it be like if that company didn’t want to be purchased, it was more of a hostile takeover?’ and kind of all of these things got mushed together and it turned into Camp Leapfrog.” In the first episode, Sam Leterna is greeted by HTW owner Brad Rush just as he’s being approached by Ethan Wilde, a representative for “The PC”, the company looking to take over Camp Leapfrog.

The response to Camp Leapfrog’s first event warranted a follow-up, and on October 29, they went live on IWTV with Camp Leapfrog: Things That Go Bump In The Ring, their camp Halloween party. The crew from the original production were joined by more CHIKARA stars, such as BLANK, Big Callux, and Jet Jaghori, more young stars like Joshua Wavra, Big Game Leroy, and Erica Leigh, indie star and ROH alumn Gabby Ortiz, and even featured a title defense of the IWTV Independent Wrestling Championship, as WARHORSE continued his 448-day run as champion against Violence. The series has now become a regular feature on IWTV, building the youth of today’s scene up in a fun way that continues the comedic presentation of CHIKARA but in a new direction of passion and compassion, understand, and representation.

It followed with Camp Leapfrog: Sam Laterna’s Slumber Party on November 28 (which aired live on Facebook, now up on IWTV), and in December will present Camp Leapfrog: Christmas Trios on Christmas Eve. For those who are still heartbroken at the seeming loss of CHIKARA’s real greatest strength – its passionate community where performers and fans intersected – then take the time to catch up on and follow Camp Leapfrog. The big people’s school may be shut down, but in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania, the kids are alright. And although their former school’s mentor turned more into the villainous Magneto, the crew at Camp Leapfrog are taking the impassioned community that drove the previous franchise and making it into something that they can ultimately be more proud about.

Stay tuned to Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. You can catch Camp Leapfrog on (IWTV).

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