COLUMBIA — Music echoes loudly off the walls of the aerobics studio at the Armory Sports Center, punctuating the rhythmic beats that drive the movements of the Boone County Hoppers, a new double dutch jump-rope team formed by the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department.
Over the next 20 minutes, 21-year-old coach Amanda Staely shouts out directions.
The city's double dutch jump rope team, the Boone County Hoppers, is looking for volunteer coaches. If you're interested in helping, contact Camren Cross at 874-6378 or at cdcross@GoColumbiaMo.com.
The team is still accepting new members, as well. Participants must be between the ages of 7 and 16. Practices are from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. Tuesdays at the Armory Sports Center, 701 E. Ash St.
"Single jump! Single jump!"
Everyone on the team, composed of 7- to-16-year-olds, grabs a jump-rope and begins hopping. Staely continues her commands.
"Side straddle!" "Wounded duck!"
It doesn't take long for fatigue to set in, but the children press on, the looks of determination on their faces a testament to how serious their goals are. This part of the practice isn't much fun. This is more like the homework they must complete before they can go play. Single-rope skills provide the foundation for the more complex double dutch moves they're trying to learn.
Double dutch is a jump-roping technique in which two people simultaneously twirl long ropes inward while another hops over both ropes in the middle. Teams create elaborate performances by combining music and movement.
Nine-year-old Surraya Prince said double dutching is her favorite part. She and her sister, Koya Prince, practice at home for five hours each week. They even asked their mom Joya Drury to buy double dutch ropes on eBay for $13.
"The girls just have a good time," Drury said. "They look forward to coming every week."
Eventually, the Boone County Hoppers hope to travel to competitions, but the team isn't ready yet.
"It's harder with the double dutch ropes because everyone has to have rhythm, and you have to learn to communicate with your other twirler," Staely said.
The Hoppers began weekly meetings in January and have a loyal following of 15 to 20 kids. Kids can join for free.
Camren Cross, recreation supervisor for the parks department, came up with the idea of a double dutch team a few years ago.
"It just seemed to fit," he said. "We have a track club, drum line, flag lines, cheer group, dance group and youth newspaper. Why not try to form a double dutch group to do routines and perform?"
Cross started coaching the Blue Thunder Track Club in 2005, and the team has been an important means of teaching children the fundamentals of running, jumping and throwing. But Cross said the youth programs offer more than an outlet for exercise and activity.
"I think kids like being part of something," Cross said. "I'd rather them be a part of something that is positive and active instead of negative."
Because Cross is the head coach of the Blue Thunder, he wasn't able to coach the Boone County Hoppers. Instead, he sought help through the Office of Volunteer Services. He struggled to find someone to launch the team until Staely contacted him in October last year. She found an ad looking for jump-rope twirlers while she was hunting for volunteer opportunities with the city.
"She admitted she didn't know a whole heck of a lot but was willing to give it a try," Cross said. "I told her I would support her in any way I can."
Staely had a year of experience from a jump roping class she took in high school, but she didn't learn how to double dutch back then. Cross bought five training videos so the two of them could learn.
"I said I didn't have much experience," Staely said. "And he said, 'OK, it's your baby.'"
Now Staely coaches the team on her own. She continues to focus on the basics, but team members get most excited when they practice double dutching. During the last half of the Tuesday practice, the team split into three groups of four, each led by a volunteer.
The kids' excitement fades when they fail to successfully land a double dutch jump. Frustration sometimes leads the kids to point blame or simply give up trying, but Staely's duty as a coach is as much to push the children forward as it is to train them.
"We don't talk bad about our teammates," she tells the kids. "Why are you sorry? Everybody messes up. You can do it!"
The kids don't give up. After failing four times, Surraya finally was able to land three jumps in a row. The smiles return to the kids faces as a proud Staely looks on.
The parks department is looking for more volunteers to help with the group. The team would have had to stop meeting in May, after Staely graduates, but Shanna Runyan, mother of 9-year-old jumper Cailyn Gilmore, stepped up to help. She said she couldn't let the team get shut down.
"And doesn't it look like fun?" Runyan said.
Cross said Runyan will need help.
"If you want to work with the youth in a very unique way, then bring it on," he said. "I really want to see this thing continue to grow."