World-class recognition for jump-rope advocate

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

August 15, 2004|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

WHEN HE became co-coach of the Kangaroo Kids two decades ago, Jim McCleary saw teaching kids to jump rope skillfully, which is what the Kids are about, as an exercise thing. It was aerobic, good for you and a fun way to get kids off their duffs and into fitness.

World travel, snorkeling in Australian waters, experiencing aboriginal culture -- they never occurred to McCleary. Neither did being known as a world-class coach in rope jumping.

But here the longtime Howard County physical education teacher is this weekend, back home after 13 days Down Under, having guided the U.S. national team in world championship competition that attracted 360 jumpers from 15 countries.

"I couldn't imagine that this would get this big," said McCleary, ever tireless in advocating rope jumping as sport. The only other world championships in the sport he had attended were in St. Louis in 1999. "It was probably half the size of this year's competition," he said.

As to coaching this year's American team in world-title competition, McCleary played that off a bit when asked to talk about Australia and his newest coaching role.

"I'm on the board of directors of the U.S. federation, and we sort of pass that coaching position around," he said. "You don't really coach the kids, you know. They go with their own coaches. The national team coach just organizes the kids."

Right.

But coaching a national team in bona fide world competition in anything is clearly an honor. It is recognition by peers that you know your stuff.

Note that the McCleary "organized" Americans won eight of 15 categories for teams and individuals in the world meet, with other titles going to Belgium, Hungary and Japan.

Participating nations included Australia, Malaysia, Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany and Denmark.

McCleary is proud of his own organization, which had an entourage of 19 in Australia at the end of last month, nine of them competitors.

Four veteran Kids -- Katherine Diamond, Tyffani McCleary, Jimmy McCleary and Robby Moylan -- placed sixth in double Dutch jumping (two ropes simultaneously) for 18-and-over mixed teams.

Four younger Kids medaled in the Gold Coast International Rope Skipping Championships -- a parallel competition for jumpers 14 and under, too young for adult world-title events.

Scott Simpson took silver in the male masters event for 12- to 14-year-olds, and the team of Courtney Law, Courtney Rice, Michaela Rogers and Simpson took bronze in the "octatholan" team event.

After Australia came Des Moines, Iowa, for this year's Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympics, an annual competition that often is sprinkled with Kangaroo Kids excellence, and this year was a good one. Here is a sampling of why:

Both junior and senior teams won "team show" gold medals. Madison Miller of Elkridge took gold among females ages 12 to 14 overall. She set an AAU Junior Olympics record by jumping 155 double-unders in a minute.

Sisters Emily and Elizabeth Butterfield of Highland took gold in pairs routines for 15- to 17-year-olds.

And then, Simpson, 13, who attends Patuxent Valley Middle School, was honored with the Junior Olympics' outstanding performance award. He came home with seven medals, all told. His sister, Amy, also took gold in the overall competition for girls ages 10 to 11.

McCleary, you should understand, sees a bright future for his sport and the Kids. In fact, he is talking about the possibility of the club some day getting its own gym.

"We have about 150 kids signed up for this fall already," he said, with another tryout session scheduled. And the club is doing a series of clinics for coaches from other parts of the Baltimore area interested in starting competitive jump-rope programs.

Notable

BASKETBALL: Congratulate two high school basketball players who live in the county for being part of a national AAU championship team. They're Chase Adams of Columbia, a junior at Mount St. Joseph High School in Irvington, and Guilford's Linden Jones, who attends Hammond High.

Both were on Team Baltimore, which under Dunbar High coach Eric Lee won the 15-and-under "Super Showcase" tournament in Des Moines this month. Team Baltimore, an all-star unit that had five days together before entering national play, beat a club from Arkansas in the final.

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