Jumping rope can mean children on a playground singing rhymes as they hop, or it can mean the dazzling double-Dutch routines that earn gold medals at national competitions.
From the simple to the sublime, jumping rope means lots of fun, getting fit and an opportunity to travel for Howard County's Kangaroo Kids.
The Kids' mission isn't just to compete, said Jim McCleary, an Elkridge resident and physical education teacher at Bollman Bridge Elementary School who founded the club 23 years ago; rather, it's to promote fitness.
"We do about 100 fitness shows a year," he said, which include stops at schools, nursing homes and community organizations. Kangaroo Kids has 180 members, ranging from first-graders to high schoolers, and fields six teams. The highest-level team has performed at halftime for the Washington Wizards, the Mystics and the Navy, and at the 20th birthday of Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
Robby Moyland, 15, a Scaggsville resident who attends DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, is starting his 11th year with Kangaroo Kids.
In Florida in June, he won the gold medal for singles double-Dutch freestyle and for pairs double-Dutch (using two ropes at once) freestyle.
"You get to travel everywhere," he said, "I've gone to Texas, Florida and Seattle. Some of my friends have gone to Europe. Those are the best trips, going with a lot of your friends."
Gaylen Euler, the Kids' administrative coordinator, said tryouts for the nonprofit club, which uses school facilities for practices, are held each fall and spring.
"Our policy has been we try to accept everyone," she said, although the sport's growing popularity is making that a challenge. She is rewarded, Euler said, by "seeing kids with low self-esteem and kids who might not make it on other teams come in and blossom. It's a real different organization in terms of being a member of a sports team."
Children are evaluated and placed on developmental, demonstration or travel teams. A place on a developmental team costs $105 a semester, a performing team costs $120 and a travel team costs $145.
Ropes are supplied, and a good pair of shoes is a must.
As in any sport, injuries are a risk. Ankles and wrists are particularly vulnerable.
While not always as eye-catching as seeing someone jump rope on a pogo stick, which some Kangaroo Kids can do, there are benefits to a jump-rope fitness program.
"The kids who do well in big competitions would do well in any competitive sport," McCleary said.
His son Jim, now a student at Morgan State University, is an example: a gold medalist nationally this year, he also played basketball and took part in gymnastics.
"You really don't realize what kind of workout you get with your arms," McCleary said. Jumping rope builds aerobic endurance and increases power, balance and agility. That's why basketball players and boxers do it.
"It's for everybody. Everybody is welcome to come and try it," McCleary said.
Elizabeth Butterfield, 13, and her sister, Emily, 11, did just that.
"It's fun," Elizabeth said. She likes to see how many double-unders - two twirls of the rope for one jump - she can do in a minute. Her record is 142.
Emily likes freestyle, in which she can create moves and routines.
"Jump rope is my No. 1 main serious sport," she said.
The sisters traveled to Disney World for this summer's competition. Elizabeth competed in a four-person single-rope relay, and Emily entered the singles freestyle, singles speed and singles speed relay divisions.
The competitions are sanctioned by the USA Jump Rope Federation. Jump rope is an event in the Junior Olympics, another event from which the Kangaroo Kids brought home a number of awards.