Juneau Jumpers practice "frogs" for a routine in their upcoming holiday show.
Kelly Olson and Kayla Simpson work on jumping together in one rope. The two-in-one-rope "was a big hit last year," Simpson said. Simpson said she likes jumping because it's "really active," and Olson's favorite thing is preparing for and performing in the shows.
Story last updated at 12/16/2009 - 11:51 am
Imagine walking into a basketball team practice and seeing 18-year-old stars shooting alongside nine-year-olds just learning to dribble.
The equivalent is the norm for the Juneau Jumpers, Juneau's performance and competition jump-roping squad. The two dozen team members range in age from nine to 18 and they all practice at the same time in the Glacier Valley Elementary School gym.
While Kelly Olson, 11, and Kayla Simpson, 10, work on jumping together with just one rope, five high school jumpers work on synchronizing "frogs," a hand spring over the twirling rope.
The younger kids "think that's really neat," said volunteer coach Karen Ross, pointing to the frogs. They'll want to try it soon, she predicted.
And when they do, the older jumpers will be happy to help teach them.
"It's a mentoring program all the way down," Ross said.
One of Jumpers working on the frogs is Iris Neary, a high school senior who has been jumping for over 10 years. She said she and the other senior members of the team are spending much of their time these days working with the future team leaders, so they can pass on skills to the younger jumpers and so on.
"You get very devoted to your team," Neary said. "We're trying to motivate the rest of the team to love it like we do."
The team has more young members now that it did a few years ago, Neary said, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you're going to start jumping, it's best to start as young as possible, she said.
Jumping takes "a willingness to make a lot of mistakes and totally fail the first few times," Neary said.
As a beginning jumper, the routines are more standardized, while the more experienced jumpers have a lot of freedom to create their own routines.
"I really like the challenge of making your routines up," Neary said. "We think about it a lot beforehand, try to combine tricks you've never seen (together) before."
"It's a sport you can be really creative with," said Grayson Carlile, one of the other senior members of the team. "There's also an element of strength and power to it. I like how varied it is."
Like Neary, Carlile spends a lot of his time in a mentoring position for the younger kids.
"The thing I emphasize most is practice, practice, practice," he said. "And patience. Jumping is something that takes a lot of practice."
The Juneau Jumpers program was started by Dwayne Bonk and Bob Berry in 1985. At the time they were coaching track at the high school. While thinking of different things they could do with the students, they came across a video tape of jump roping. They incorporated jumping into track practices for conditioning and also started a team for performing and competing, which came to be called the Juneau Jumpers.
Bonk, who now lives in New Mexico, was in town for a visit last week and dropped by the Jumpers practice. He said he was surprised and pleased to see the program still going strong.
"We never though or believed it would take off," Bonk said.
But it did. At the height of the program, in the late 80s, there were as many as 300 kids in the program, Bonk said. The team has performed nationally and internationally Some former Juneau Jumpers have gone on to jumping stardom, such as Peter Nesler, who is recognized as one of the top jump ropers in the world.
What does it take to succeed? "Hard work, good conditioning, (and) just a love of the sport," Bonk said.
The tradition of mentoring within the program has been a part of Juneau Jumpers since the beginning.
"Once we taught the kids, they were teaching each other," Bonk said. "It's such a friendly sport. If you have a good jump, you go ahead and share it."
The Juneau Jumpers will perform their holiday show at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 17 at Glacier Valley Elementary School. There will be a special appearance by the Auke Bay Ropers jump rope team. Tickets are $5 per person and $10 for a family, or $3/$8 with two cans of food to donate to the food bank.