"Miss Mary Mack, Mack Mack,
All dressed in black, black, black
She jumped so high, high, high
She touched the sky, sky, sky."
Miss Mary Mack must have been a Summerwind Skipper. The Boise jump roping team just got back from the world championships in Toronto, Canada--again--and guess what? They won, again.
Coach Karen Hay, a physical education teacher in Boise, leads the Skippers on their international mission. She began the Skippers as an after-school club more than a decade ago. "I've always been prone to what the kids can do to show their parents, something the parents would say, 'Wow, that's neat' about," says Hay. "And jump rope was kinda conducive to that; it does kinda wow you."
Founded officially as a team in 1995, the Summerwind Skippers are a performance and competitive jump rope team that promotes physical fitness and fosters confidence, discipline, responsibility and leadership for the kids involved.
"We've been a team for 11 years and right now, we have about 40 members, age 9 to 22," says Hay. "Five of those kids are in college and have been with the team 10 or 11 years."
The team performs all kinds of events in town and around the country. Maybe you've seen their complicated and captivating routines at Boise State games or at Idaho Stampede games. Or perhaps on Late Night with David Letterman and Good Morning America. And, of course, they compete.
"I found out about [competitions] in 1997 and that's when we went to our first nationals," Hay says of the early days. "That first year we took 10 kids, and everyone that went medaled. We did awesome."
At this year's five-day tournament, the group of Jeanette Hronek, Kelsy Moe, Lee Reisig, Shane Winsor and Calli Wold competed in the Senior Open Division, the highest level of competition, considered the "Olympics of Jump Rope." And they won, taking home gold medals in Double Dutch Overall, Single Rope Overall and the Overall World Championship.
As for the Junior Division jumpers (kids ages 12 to 17) two five-member groups of Skippers won world medals--one group took home silver medals for Double Dutch and Overall, and the other won the bronze in the Overall category. Winsor, one of the team's stars, also won bronze in the Overall Individual World Championship.
Filmmaker Helen Scherr is making a movie about the Summerwind Skippers that is scheduled for release next year. "They've been followed for a year and a half in competitions, workshops, camps," says Hay. The same four Skippers to be featured in the movie also filmed a commercial for the energy drink Adez last spring. The shoot was in Barcelona, Spain, and the commercial, which is currently on TV in Europe, will air stateside next year.
The kids are in demand, traveling every weekend in September and October to Colorado, Canada, Ohio, North Carolina and Washington to exhibit their winning routines or to coach other jump rope teams. And they didn't earn all the hype for nothing. The team practices four days a week for two hours a day. Sometimes, during competition time, they add a three-hour Saturday practice to the schedule, says Hay, so that they don't get rusty on complicated tricks such as the Sonny D, the Kamikaze and the Push Up, which is a regular push up done twice under one rope with the three, four or five ropes spinning around them.
Hay adds that despite the pressure of the world stage, the kids develop their own routines. "They do it themselves. I mean, I help them refine it but they come up with their own routines," she says. "The older ones have outgrown [relying on] me but the little kids need me a little more."
That's a lot of work for any youngster--more than just creating and remembering the jumping moves. They also need to work together to determine who does what in the element categories, like taking turns being a jumper and a rope twirler. And everyone has to take a turn as a jumper.
Jump roping is a global sport, and some of the toughest competition is foreign. "Belgium has a good team," says Hay. "Belgium was the top in world, but we beat them." Other good teams are the Bouncing Bulldogs from North Carolina and the Hot Dogs of Seattle.
Currently, the Skippers are the No. 1 mixed team in the world. That means the Skippers have both boys and girls; some teams are all female, some are mixed and everything is divided into different age categories. Hay says that when it comes to tryouts for the team, which happen almost every year and are open to anyone in the age bracket, boys have an advantage. "We don't have many boys on the team. This year we have nine or 10," she says. "I want it to be a sport that they don't think is a girl thing."
That's probably not much of a challenge when you start tossing titles like "world champion athletes" into the mix.