USA Jump Rope Region 8 Tournament at La Cañada High School

La Cañada High School students, from left, Elizabeth Bromley, Jenna Dorse and Emma Sheehy practice their routine at the USA Jump Rope Region 8 Tournament at La Cañada High School. More than 100 athletes from California and Arizona participated in the event. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / March 23, 2013)

Some may look at jump rope and see a game for schoolgirls, but others see it as a sport requiring equal parts dexterity, speed and athleticism. Saturday was a day for the latter.

That's when 112 California and Arizona jumpers ages 8 to 38 showed up at La Cañada High School to participate in the USA Jump Rope Region 8 Tournament. They showcased their talents in 12 individual and group events, including freestyle and Double Dutch. In June, regional winners will compete in the U.S. Amateur Jump Rope (USAJR) National Championships in Long Beach.

Inside the gym, approximately 100 spectators rallied around nine teams performing on two separate courts. Cheers among teams provided proof that unlike many of its mainstream counterparts, jump rope fosters goodwill.

“Jump rope is a very friendly sport,” said tournament director Kathy Weninger, whose sophomore son, Ethan Angold, competes on the San Gabriel Valley team Foothill Force. “If you see the kids in the practice room, they're talking to each other and sharing tricks with each other. It's not at all cutthroat.”

In the bleachers, four Foothill Force girls watched the synchronized pairs freestyle event. Carly Witteman, a La Cañada Elementary School fifth-grader, says the team lets her turn a hobby into something more serious.

“I've always liked jump-roping since I was little, so this is taking it to the next level,” she says.

Classmate Julia Kim agrees, “I liked jump-roping when I was little. I like playing it at recess and stuff....”

“You don't play it, you do it,” Witteman corrects.

“Yeah,” Kim says, “people think it's a game.”

Teammate Laura Kang, a fifth-grader at Mountain Avenue Elementary School in La Crescenta, has competed for six months and admits that with a speed record of 96 steps per minute, she has some catching up to do. For her, the competition is about building speed and confidence on the floor — and having fun with her new friends.

“Everyone's so nice,” she says. “I also made a lot of new friends here, like them.”

Witteman responds with a fist bump.

Alongside Kang sits Abby Kim (no relation to Julia). The La Crescenta fourth-grader has jumped rope seriously for three years, logging an impressive 142 steps per minute in the speed events, her favorite.

“I like this sport because it's not an only-you sport. You get to do events with other people,” she says.

“Everyone has very good sportsmanship, and it's just fun.”

Jump rope is a welcome alternative to mainstream sports, as it's versatile and athletic but largely fun, said Michael Fry, 26, an assistant coach on the Foothill Force who himself has won gold at the USAJR Nationals and World Jump Championships.

“It's all about them developing their confidence,” he adds.

“Jump rope is great for that. You can learn a new skill every day for 20 years and still have new skills to learn.”

The current world speed record is an astounding 366 footsteps per minute, according to Fry, who says he's hopeful one day a local jumper will set out to break it.

For Soren Ryssdal, 9, a Paradise Canyon Elementary School third-grader who competed in the speed, freestyle and pair events Saturday, jump rope is more about fun than fame.

“I like that everybody is really nice and nobody is too competitive, and you don't need to worry about anything, you just feel good,” he said.

And while the girls on the team still significantly outnumber the boys, he doesn't mind.

“There are usually a lot of girls in my class, so I'm sort of used to it,” he says.