Jumping rope all the way to world championships

March 27, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Deanna Espeut, 12, jumped between the two circling jump-ropes, being careful not to step on them, while rope turner Ave Danzy yelled: "Keep your feet up!"

But as soon as her 12-year-old teammate gave the tip, Deanna stepped on the rope, which meant she had to start over again.

The girls are members of Black Lightning, an 11-member double Dutch jump-rope club formed in October at Owen Brown Middle School.

"I used to watch my sister [double Dutch]," said Kendra Walters, of Black Lightning. "It's fun, and something to do for a sport."

Tiffany Edwards agreed, and added that the group's name has a special meaning for its members.

"We decided to get 'Black Lightning' because we were a majority African-American team and we were fast," she said.

Road to championships

On May 14, the members of Black Lightning will display their skills in Largo, at the first Maryland Double Dutch Final Competition. The event is a way station on the trip to the World Double Dutch Invitational Championship at the University of Maryland College Park in June.

Black Lightning and two other Columbia teams, Helping Hands of Howard County and Kangaroo Kids, a precision jump-rope team started about 15 years ago, are among the nine Maryland teams that will take part in the Largo competition. Because of the small number of Maryland teams, all are guaranteed a berth to represent the state at the world championships.

But they can expect some stiff competition from teams in Washington, D.C., and other cities where double Dutch is a popular pastime and where teams eliminated local rivals to reach the June championships.

The members of Black Lightning, all seventh-graders at Owen Brown Middle School, know they won't be as seasoned as some veterans from out of state, but vow to put up a good fight.

They practice for an hour after school on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and practice at recess. They also have attended weekend double Dutch clinics in Washington, D.C., and in Greenbelt to improve their skills.

Inexpensive pastime

The game of double Dutch dates back several centuries and is thought to have been brought to this country by Dutch immigrants, said David Walker, president of the International Double Dutch Federation in New York.

In its simplest form, it involves two people turning two ropes inwardly, "eggbeater style," for one or two jumpers.

The game has long been an inexpensive pastime, especially for city girls. It became a formalized sport in 1973, when Mr. Walker founded the American Double Dutch League, and added rules and regulations.

The sport has gained wide attention, inspiring the song "Double Dutch Bus" in the 1980s, and becoming the subject of conferences and of coverage on ESPN.

In formal competition, teams are scored on freestyle, which includes dance and acrobatics; compulsory, which includes basic coordination; and speed, said Kimberly Bradshaw, president of the Maryland State Double Dutch League. The record set for speed jumping is 423 steps in two minutes.

New York influence

Double Dutch formally came to Howard County in the late 1970s and in the early 1980s, said Mildred Smith-Evans, who formed a group called Jumping Sensations in Columbia in 1982.

"No one was jumping ropes here," the native New Yorker said. "So I thought it would be a great opportunity to get girls involved."

She held Columbia's First Double Dutch Invitational Competition the Columbia Mall in 1983, drawing more than 100 participants from throughout Maryland. The tournament was repeated the next year.

Ms. Smith-Evans now coaches the Helping Hands group and Kangaroo Kids, who have traveled worldwide picking up scores of awards.

"It's a lot of fun and challenging," said Jean Rogers, one of Kangaroo Kids' head coaches. "It's not easy to do. It's a lot more than turning ropes."

The Black Lightning team was begun by Ameedah Abdullah, a reading teacher at Owen Brown Middle School, who wanted to give the girls a way to channel their energy and to build their self-esteem.

The Columbia Association's Teen Center agreed to sponsor the team, providing funds for transportation, T-shirts, ropes and registration fees.

"I grew up in New York City, Rockaway Beach in Queens," Ms. Abdullah said. "We did double Dutch when we were still in elementary school. At that time it was very important because that's what everybody did.

"It was sort of like a rite of passage," she said.

She has noted a marked improvement in Black Lightning since she began coaching the team, whose members initially couldn't jump into the whirling ropes correctly.

On a recent breezy day, after stretching and running to build endurance, the girls practiced jumping and turning.

"I think they'll be ready," Ms. Abdullah said of the pending competition.

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