Even if you can't sink a basket, throw a curve ball or make a field goal, you can be an elite athlete in Juneau.
All you need is a good hand and eye coordinator and good foot speed, said Juneau Jumpers coaches Scott and Donna Johnson, as they supervised a jump skills clinic Saturday morning at Glacier Valley Elementary School.
"All kids can learn how to jump rope, but it takes willingness and perseverance (to be good at it)," said Donna Johnson. "Those kids who are determined and stick with it, go far."
There are 31 footwork skills or "tricks" one must master to make the team. They include the single bounce, the forward straddle, the wing-ding, the heel to heel, the wounded duck or toes-out, the advanced twister and the Russian Cossack.
There are nine members of the Juneau Jumpers Demo Team at present. All have been to national and some to world competitions. Most have been jumping since first or third grade, Donna said. High school juniors Jessica Hadfield and Meghan Salveson, for example, have been on the team for 11 years, Scott said.
Jumping combines Rockette-like high kicks with rhythmic shuffles, hops, steps, jumps and turns that would do a tap dancer proud. Like a gymnast's balance beam, the rope is the point of reference - with the important difference that you avoid touching it.
The Johnsons hold clinics once a year to find new enthusiasts for the sport. Usually the clincs are during spring break, but this year's is earlier because the weather is so "icky," Donna said.
Wearing a Padres shirt, Karissa Jackson, 6, tried to climb onto a pogo ball, a spongy piece of jump equipment resembling Saturn with one ring. The goal is to balance on the ring, grip the top hemisphere between your ankles, and jump rope. Struggling with the ball, Karissa said, "I like double Dutch because it's easy."
"I like this sport because it's really fun and it really keeps you on your toes," said Stephanie West, 9 going on 10. Stephanie geared up for the workshop by attending after school classes every Wednesday for the last two months at Mendenhall River School. This meant she had gained confidence and already mastered a couple of tricks before joining Saturday's session.
"I like the cross-over and the can can," Kelsey Castagnola, 8, said, "but my legs get sore."
Megan Treston, 14, a member of the elite Demo team, has been jumping since second grade. "It's a different, unique sport," she said. "We get to travel a lot and meet lots of nice people." Megan has been to Florida for national competition, to California jump camps and to Sitka for regional meets.
Teammate Lesley Kalbrener, 12, has been jumping for five years. "It's fun to perform and do clinics like this and travel," Lesley said.
Both Megan and Lesley look forward to the possibility of traveling to Belgium in two years for a world competition.
"The nice thing about jump rope is that although there is adult leadership, you also get to work by yourself, or with partners in a duet, a trio and a quartet," said Nila Treston, Megan's mother, as she sipped coffee and observed.
"Jumping allows them freedom to create and argue and be spontaneous with the final product. And they have the opportunity to make friends around the United States and stay in contact with e-mail," Treston added.
The Johnsons became coaches three years ago when founder Bob Berry retired. "Both our daughters were on the team and we didn't want it to die," Donna Johnson said. "The neat thing about it is that we have second graders through high school juniors working together, mentoring each other. It teaches perseverance and teamwork."
In fact, the discipline mastered jumping tends to carry over into other fields, she said. "Many of our team members are also on the honor roll. And if they do go on to skiing or football, they do well."
The Jumpers practice every Tuesday and Thursday, plus occasional weekends. Weekend practices become more frequent when the team is preparing for meets.
The Juneau Jumpers 2001 Valentine Show is at 6 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Glacier Valley gym. The Sitka Skippers will perform. Derek Hirai, the 2000 Single Rope National Champion, will be guest grand master. There is a suggested donation of $3.
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.