It's this year's sport. The Junior Olympics has added it. ESPN covers it. Even boys are getting interested.
It's "jump roping" -- not the playground variety, but the precision kind. To music. With teams.
"Jump roping is modern. Jump roping is this year, not the '80s or '70s," said Ilana Carr, 9, of Glenmont near Columbia, after learning this week that she had become an official member of the Kangaroo Kids Precision Jump Rope Team.
The internationally known team is made up of 120 Howard County school children, from kindergartners through high school seniors, who double-dutch, speed jump, tumble and, in the words of 10-year-old member Shannon Burton, "jump as high as a kangaroo."
Kangaroo Kids has three levels: developmental, intermediate and travel. The 44-member travel team is for accomplished jumpers. They've jumped their way onto television and to Europe and Australia for worldwide competitions and performances.
"It used to be a thing kids did on the playground," said head coach Jean Hodges. "Now it's working up to being recognized as a world class sport."
In July, eight members of its travel team will compete in the Junior Olympics in Des Moines, Iowa, which has just added rope-jumping as an official event. Sixteen team members will travel to Seattle for the World Invitational Championships.
In the past decade, the popularity of rope-jumping has soared -- with competitions proliferating worldwide. For Howard's Kangaroo Kids, serious pursuit of the sport starts with tryouts.
For almost two hours Tuesday, the gym floor at Harper's Choice Middle School in Columbia took a beating from the rhythmic smacks of ropes and the pounding feet of 32 Kangaroo Kid hopefuls executing single jumps, foot hops, skips and turns.
The tryouts drew the biggest turnout among four held this school year. When Paige Burton, a judge for this week's competition, tried out for Kangaroo Kids five years ago, she only had to compete against two others.
More boys also are showing up.
Patrick Crehan, 8, of Ellicott City wasn't afraid of competition from more experienced girls. "It feels sort of funny because a lot of girls are here," he said. "But I feel kind of good because I can do all these things. I have talent."
First-grader Jeffrey Shruefer, 6, of Kings Contrivance, also was up for the challenge -- and for continuing a family tradition by following in the footsteps of his older sister, Kim, a team member. "Hey, I'm pretty good. I can jump with my rope folded," he said during his warm-ups.
Waiting for the tryouts to begin, some of the contestants thundered away with a tricky maneuver known as the "criss-cross with alternating feet hop step" -- essentially twirling the rope with crossed arms, while hopping on alternating feet.
Other prospective team members -- especially 4- , 5- and 6-year olds -- tried to skip along, often with their ropes catching in their hair or stinging them on their backs and legs.
During a five-minute break, the more nervous contestants headed to the fringes of the gym with their ropes hung around their necks to consult with their mothers.
The judges were not looking for experienced performers so much as ones who could rope jump with out taking extra bounces while waiting for the rope to pass -- as many playground jumpers do.
"It's natural to put in a rebound jump," said Ms. Hodges. "We're looking for kids who can progress beyond that and do the timed steps with the music."
As tryout numbers were called out for performances before judges, the pressure noticeably increased.
"I'm kind of scared. There's a couple of things I can do and a couple of things I can't do. People might make fun of me for things I can't do," said Leigh Schneider, a sixth-grader at Oakland Mills Middle School.
In the end, 23 of the 32 candidates were selected to join the Kangaroo Kids.
Their first act was to head over to a box to buy their first Kangaroo jump ropes.
"I've been looking forward to being a Kangaroo Kid," said Ilana. "I've been trying to jump rope for a long time. I use to jump rope badly, and now I'm pretty good. I'm proud of myself."