On a Tuesday after school, the gym at Natcher Elementary in Warren County hosts a team in training. The Jumpin’ Jaguars are bound for the Big Apple.
This competitive jump roping team will perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. They are coached by Vickie Odil, who has two children on the team.
Two hundred other jumpers from across the nation will add to the pageantry of the parade with their synchronized jumps and turns. Odil says only five students, all from Warren County, were chosen to represent the Commonwealth.
"The coaches had to submit their names, each child had to be 12 years and older, they had to be at a certain skill level, they had to have competed nationally," explains Odil. They had to be able to do the routine that they're doing which looks pretty easy, but when you try it, it's pretty hard, especially when you're doing it with others and staying right on task."
The local jumpers are Mia Odil from Drakes Creek Middle School, Rachel Yarano from South Warren Middle School, and Jenna Baldwin, Kaelin Odil, and Sarah Armstrong, all from Greenwood High School.
During a practice round, Jenna Baldwin and a teammate stand on opposite ends of two jump ropes while another teammate jumps the crisscrossing ropes.
"Right here we're doing Multiples and Double Dutch, which is where the rope goes under your feet two, three, or four times before you land, so you have to jump really high," remarks Baldwin.
Then there’s speed jumping. You can hear the ropes whistling in the air. These ropes are made of cable wire that you don’t want to be hit with, as some jumpers can attest.
Competitive jump roping requires tremendous endurance. The Jumpin’ Jaguars have spent the past three months doing high cardio workouts in preparation for the Macy’s Parade. Coach Vickie Odil says the athletes will be required to jump the entire parade route. That’s three hours without stopping.
"There's 200 jumpers and there's six in each line, and after so many minutes, the first line splits and they have to run down the sides where someone will hand them a small sip of water in a cup," states Odil. "They can't stop running, they run to the back, take a sip, throw it, as they're running back into the formation at the back of the line and continue."
To jump the entire distance, the jumpers have to be in top condition for a sport that’s not always recognized as such.
"It's not known. A lot of people think of playground jump roping. Once they see it, they're really impressed by it," says Odil. "It's a great exercise that takes a lot of talent. They make it look a lot easier than it actually is."
Starting from Central Park, the jumpers will be performing along the two-and-a-half mile route that winds through New York City. The parade draws an estimated 3.5 million spectators, enough to make these young performers a little nervous. Twelve-year-old Mia Odil is the youngest jumper.
"I think I'll be a little nervous, but once I get there and see all the people and everything, I won't be as nervous," comments Odil.
The local jumpers will arrive in New York City on November 26, two days before the parade. It will be the first time all 200 jumpers from around the nation will be together to practice their routine.
For 10th grader Jenna Baldwin, she will miss her traditional Thanksgiving at home, but the experience, she says, will be worth it.
"I've watched the parade every year since I was little and I've also wanted to go to New York and watch it. Being in it is a lot better than watching it, so I'm really excited," replies Baldwin.
Find a video of the Jumpin' Jaguars here.