On an average Wednesday, Thursday or Friday night year-round, the members of the precision and competition Hoppin' Hawks Jump Rope Club teams can be found at Prospect Mill Elementary School in Bel Air. These young people, who represent six middle schools, six high schools and one home school, can be found perfecting skills, developing routines and experimenting with new tricks.
Founded in 1992, the team's head coach is Megan Reith, a former team member who first started as an assistant coach in 2008. Sheri Billings, who began working with the squad in 2009, is an assistant coach.
"The biggest challenge facing precision jump-ropers is that you are never done growing as a jumper because the sport is always changing and evolving," Reith said.
The success of this team is contingent on the theory that practice makes perfect. As a result, many challenges face precision jump-ropers as they prepare for shows and competitions.
"The greatest challenge is when you can't master a skill and it starts to frustrate you. But once you master the skill, you feel accomplished and you're ready to take on more," team member Kadie Goodin said.
Teammate Sophie Nelson agrees and states that precision jump-ropers must have an extremely keen sense of detail when it comes to executing a routine cleanly on competition day.
The student-athletes on the team are among some of the top performing students in their individual schools and they also participate in a multitude of other sports, including soccer, lacrosse, basketball and softball. Seventeen members are on this elite team. Though this squad features only one male jumper, countless young men all across the nation and beyond do dynamic and innovative tricks, routines and performances.
"…it is a challenge getting more boys to join and see how awesome this sport really is," the lone boy on the team, Spencer Billings, said. "...It's more than just what you see on the playground. It can be so creative, explosive and exciting."
At the World Championships in Florida last summer, there were as many male as female competitors.
"HHJRC is a competitive team and has traveled all over for jump rope competitions," Reith said. "I also think people would be surprised that guys are often better jumpers than girls for some things such as a lot of the multiple skills and strength skills."
Beyond their individual obligations to the jump rope team, the squad is also responsible for mentoring and coaching the children who participate in the Hoppin' Hawks instructional program which takes place on Thursday evenings. The instructional program is open to any boy or girl, age 5 and older. Jumpers are placed in levels depending on their abilities and can advance to higher levels when ready.
In July, the jump rope club also hosts as week-long camp where any child can participate to learn and to improve jump rope skills or just see what the club is about.
"Camp week is amazing; it's fun, it's engaging and it's challenging because we work with jumpers of every ability," club member Cassidy Chandler said.
Camp is held at the Churchville Recreational Center and there is an all-day and a half day option for interested individuals.
The Hoppin' Hawks usually performs approximately 10 shows for the Harford County Public Schools system during which the members showcase a multitude of single rope, pairs, long rope, double-Dutch and speed and agility performances with the intention of highlighting the benefits of a healthy lifestyle while also promoting the fun and exciting opportunities found in the sport of rope jumping.
Last Thanksgiving, Reith and club member Alyssa Newton were among the 200 jump-rope athletes participating in the 87th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. Organized by the Heartbeats Jump Rope Team in Cleveland, Ohio, the group appeared under the acronym J.U.M.P. (Jumpers United for Macy's Parade). Starting from Central Park, the athletes jumped the entire 2.5-mile course through New York City in front of a spectator crowd of typically more than 3.5 million people.
The team performs between three and 10 half-time shows for sporting events each year as well as 10 to 20 other community events. Over the weekend they performed at the Baltimore Blast championship soccer game in Baltimore.
Some of their events included performances at the Naval Academy, the National Children's Museum at National Harbor's 5th annual Jump Off!, Towson University and the Baltimore Blast Soccer Arena.
Members of the jump rope club also compete regionally, nationally and internationally. In the past, members of the team also have competed at the USA Jump Rope National Competition and the AAU Junior Olympics. During the summer of 2013, several members of the team traveled to Florida to compete and train in the World Jump Rope Competition at Central Florida University in Orlando.
According to team member Emily Kogler, she gets to experience things she may not have done if she didn't jump rope, like performing at college half-time shows and in other venues all around the region.
"Meeting new people opens even more opportunities like new places to perform and skills to learn," Kogler said.
Beyond its obvious health benefits, the sport of jump rope is one that benefits directly anyone who may be cross training and/or endurance training for other athletic activities. Regardless, from the novice jumper to the more experienced, this sport is a comprehensive form of exercise which transcends gender and age. It also teaches and reinforces valuable skills like team-building, communication and self-discipline, skills beneficial to young athletes.
"My advice for those looking to get into jump rope is that you really only need a pair of good jumping shoes and a rope… the possibilities of what to do in jump rope are only limited to what you can create," Reith said.
Looking for more information? Check out the Hoppin' Hawks website http://www.hoppinhawks.org or on Facebook at Hoppin' Hawks.