Janet Sasser never dreamed she'd grow up to be the mother of a boy who jumped rope.
Growing up in Winston-Salem, N.C., in the '50s, she'd run outside with a length of clothesline and meet her girlfriends to swing the rope, jump in and out of its twirling cadence and sing silly songs of youth as the rope slapped against the sidewalk.
"You know," she said. "Someone would call out 'A' and you'd sing: 'My name is Alison and I come from Alabama and I eat apples . . ."
You know, girl stuff.
"There were boys I played football with," she said. "But no boys ever jumped rope with me. If they did, they'd have never heard the end of it."
At her side, grinning and holding a bag filled with colorful ropes made of plastic and beads, is her son Matt, age 13 and a member of Maryland's Kangaroo Kids, hotshot rope jumpers of the New Age '90s.
Matt took a little kidding from his buddies when he became a Kangaroo, one of about 20 teams from around the country who filled the field house at the University of Maryland Baltimore County yesterday for the Seventh Annual Jump Rope Festival.
He's even sensitive enough about it to keep the hobby to himself, practicing with the team or in his house.
But if they could see what Matt can do with a rope, a boom box pumping rap music and ideas borrowed from gymnastics, the teasers would shut up fast.
"The fun is jumping faster," he says. "Jumping higher."
Simple double-dutch just doesn't cut it anymore.
Take, for instance, the vaunted Texas Star.
"It takes four long ropes doing double-dutch in reverse," said Gail Hodges, daughter of Kangaroo coach Jean Hodges. "The ropes weave together in a way that makes a box in the middle, and the turners have to turn perfectly."
Here are a few other jump rope terms for your primer:
The Swish and Cross.
The Mad Dog with the Cross.
This is a childhood game being pushed by grown-ups like Jean Hodges for competitive status, a pastime being pushed into athletics and, Jim McCleary hopes, a spot in the Olympics one day. Mr. McCleary, a physical education teacher from Howard County, is the other Kangaroo coach. No one knows just how jumping rope got started, he said, but the ancient legends are from China and India, where children would weave in and out of the twirling hawsers of hemp as adults made rope by hand.
Now competitive jumping is getting bigger every year, with more teams from more states and more youngsters. This year, the local festival was moved from a high school gym to the college field house to accommodate the 2,000 people that were expected last night to see performers like Jim McCleary's
12-year-old daughter, Tyffani, jump to choreography.
"It's work," said Tyffani, whose specialty is speed-jumping and double-dutch. "I practice with the team three times a week and at home once a week, and the harder it gets, the more frustrating it is; you get tired, you can get mad at each other, but you sit down and talk it out."
But it's still fun to do stuff like square dance and jump rope at the same time. It's fun, said 10-year-old Brad Tomaski, to be a boy jumping rope.
"I saw [an exhibition] in the mall when I was in the second grade," says Brad. "And I said, 'I want to do that.' And when my friends saw what I could do, after a while they thought it was awesome and magnificent."