Jean Hodges
Jean Hodges (Photo courtesy of Jean Hodges, Patuxent Publishing)

Since the Community Sports Hall of Fame began, two of the founding members of the Kangaroo Kids — Don Disney and Jim McCleary — have been inducted.

But anyone familiar with the Kangaroo Kids, or jumping rope in general, knows that there has been one notable omission, until now, as Jean Hodges is finally being honored.

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"It is hard to separate Don, Jim and Jean when talking about the success of the Kangaroo Kids. Don and Jim were the face of the (Kangaroo Kids). Jean was (the) heart and soul," wrote Jim McCauley, a 2007 inductee who helped develop the Columbia Basketball Association and also helped the Kangaroo Kids become a not-for-profit organization while serving as treasurer.

Hodges' history with the Kangaroo Kids goes back almost as far as Disney, its founder, and McCleary, its first coach.

Hodges was first introduced to the program in 1980 when her daughters — Jen and later Gail — were participating in a performance at Atholton Elementary School.

"I was amazed at seeing a whole gym full of people doing a choreographed routine to music," she said. "It was incredibly crowd pleasing and it was good for the kids as well."

When Hodges was growing up in England — her first athletic love was swimming and she was a national level backstroker — she knew jumping rope as a playground pastime, like hopscotch or tag, and it was called skipping.

But when Hodges saw what the Kangaroo Kids were doing for her daughters and other young people in Columbia, she looked at the sport in a whole new light and decided that she wanted to be a part of it.

Hodges' husband John, who she met while he was stationed in the U.K. with the U.S. Air Force, worked for IBM. Her work as a substitute teacher afforded her ample time to dedicate to other causes.

She started off chaperoning trips with the Kangaroo Kids Precision Jump Rope team, soon formed a parent board and became team coordinator and coach, a position she held for more than 15 years. In 1985, she coordinated the first Kangaroo Kids Festival and more than 25 years later, she still travels from her home in Delaware to oversee the event.

"Jim (McCleary) was really the visionary, and I was, too, with the choreographing of routines, but I was more of the administrator," Hodges said. "My biggest successes were with the kids that came in with average coordination but because of hard work became tremendous athletes."

In her time, the Kangaroo Kids went from an after school activity, a fun way to get kids exercising without realizing it, to a nationally recognized competitive jump roping team.

"The first out-of-state trip was to Minneapolis in 1983 and it's just grown since then," Hodges said. "When I first got involved it was just a performance team, but within three years we heard about competition … it was a beginning, it was somewhere to start. We felt that there was a place for those who only wanted to perform and those who wanted to compete."

Both branches of the Kangaroo Kids have thrived.

The Kangaroo Kids put on more than 100 performances a year, including shows at the White House and in front of tens of thousands of fans at major sporting venues.

"We've been to all of the major sporting events. The Orioles game wasn't as successful," Hodges says with a laugh. "Try jumping rope on grass."

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The Kangaroo Kids have also seen almost as many countries as the Rolling Stones on a world tour: Canada, Australia, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Japan to name a few, winning countless national and international competitions.

Since 1995, she helped create the largest jump rope organization in the country, the USA Jump Rope Federation, and served as its first president. She was treasurer for FISAC, the international jump rope organization, and still serves as a tournament director and board member for the Amateur Athletic Union jump rope committee, helping to give jump roping a national and international presence.

"The sport has really developed tremendously. It's really all across the world now," she said.

Hodges' own daughter, Jennifer Van Cise, who herself became a choreographer and coach with the Kangaroo Kids, said that her mother's example has served her well.

"To my mother, participating in any activity or group meant engaging her whole self: volunteering vast sums of personal time, coordinating the contributions of others based on their skills or resources or time, and applying her many personal skills to solve problems," Van Cise wrote. "(She) was always in the middle of the action, and always making a positive impact. I can't think of a single exception to this statement."

Hodges and her husband "retired" in 2001 and moved to Delaware, but that has not ended their involvement with the Kangaroo Kids or jump roping.

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