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By JOHN GLADDEN
GRANGER TWP. â€” Whatever you know about jump roping, forget about it.
This is not like what you did at recess on the playground. This is not like a boxer skipping rope and crossing it in front of him now and again for flair.
What the Heartbeats do is called competitive jump roping, but really it is gymnastics â€¦ while jumping a rope. Itâ€™s breakdancing â€¦ while jumping a rope. It demands all the same speed, endurance, agility and rhythm of basketball or track or tennis â€¦ while jumping a rope.
And this team â€” made up of youth from Cuyahoga, Medina and Summit counties â€” is world class. This weekend, the Heartbeatsâ€™ top jumpers will travel to Cincinnati for a shot at making the U.S. team and a trip to the world competition in Cape Town, South Africa, in July. Their routines will be judged on factors including skill, speed and presentation.
Jenny Evans (from left), of Strongsville, Tania Terpylak, of Akron, and Lauren Rogerson, of Richfield, of the Heartbeats jump roping team, practice their routine at Pinnacle Sports in Granger Township. The routine will be performed this weekend in Cincinnati during tryouts for the U.S. team that will be heading to South Africa this summer for the world competition. (Bridget Commisso | Staff Photographer)
During a weeknight practice at Pinnacle Sports, coach Pam Evans, stopwatch in hand, runs the two-hour skill and conditioning session with the intensity of a football coach. When the jumpers are a little slow transitioning from one drill to the next, they pay the price with push-ups.
â€œHow many?â€ one jumper asked.
â€œFifteen,â€ Evans replied. â€œIâ€™m being nice today.â€
A smattering of â€œthank-yousâ€ arose as two dozen bodies instantly dropped and gave her 15.
â€œYouâ€™re welcome, youâ€™re welcome, youâ€™re welcome,â€ Evans answered.
On the backside of one jumperâ€™s shorts it says: â€œGot Ropes?â€ Several others sport another message on their team T-shirts: â€œWords Cannot Describe â€¦ Heartbeats.â€
For a writer, this is a bit intimidating, but I will try.
The sound of a Heartbeats practice â€” two dozen jump ropes and twice as many feet slapping the hard plastic sports floor many times per second â€” is like a downpour on a tin roof. Like a lit match dropped into a box of firecrackers, like frozen french fries in hot grease, like the clatter of machine guns and typewriters. There is enough wattage being generated here to power a small city. The walls vibrate. The floor vibrates. The air whirs.
The Heartbeats have around 50 members, ranging in age from elementary school through college. Most are female.
â€œBoys get teased a lot,â€ Evans said. â€œBut then once somebody watches them and sees what they do, itâ€™s like the teasing just stops. They just sit there and say, â€˜Oh my God.â€™ â€
Competitive jump roping requires a balance of athleticism and artistry â€” plus the ability to jump in sync with the music and with teammates.
â€œA lot of itâ€™s drive,â€ Evans said. â€œIf theyâ€™ve got the will, theyâ€™ll do it.â€
In double-dutch routines, two turners turn two ropes, one in each hand. Sometimes the turners spin while they are turning. Turners and jumpers trade places â€” handing off the rope handles like batons, never stopping twirling, never missing a beat.
A jumper may leapfrog over one turnerâ€™s shoulders, through a perfectly synchronized opening in the ropes, and hit the ground jumping. Sometimes there are multiple jumpers â€” jumping on all fours, breakdancing, jumping over one anotherâ€™s bodies, doing somersaults, all while navigating the spinning eggbeater of ropes.
As they say, words cannot describe.
Itâ€™s a great sport, the coach said, because the equipment is simple and inexpensive. The cost is in the hours of dedication it takes to perfect tricks that may last only a split second.
The Heartbeats compete in the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympics and the U.S. National Jump Rope Championship. A booster club provides support and organization for the team.
Even though competitive jump roping is as demanding as any other sport, there are no scholarships for these kids, she said. The payoff is in the friendships they develop with jumpers from around the world and the chance to travel places other athletes their age may never go. Evans said the kids are always online and text-messaging with peers from all over the country. There is hope jump roping will become an Olympic demonstration sport someday soon.
Besides the competition, the artistry and the athleticism, there is, too, the simple joy of jumping.
Hailey Fleming, 10, jumped for two years on the jump rope team at Brunswickâ€™s Kidder Elementary, where she is in fourth grade. Her grandpa, James Huff, took her to see a Heartbeats demonstration, and she was hooked. She tried out and made the team.
â€œI jump every day after school,â€ she said.
â€œShe jumps until sheâ€™s exhausted, then she jumps again,â€ said her mother, Diane Fleming. â€œShe loves it. This is all she wants to do.â€