At 7:30 a.m., it's hard to believe that high school students are willing to wake up, let alone take part in any sort of physical activity.
But at Central High School in Martinsburg, many students choose to have their homeroom in the gym because of the popularity of an unexpected pastime: double Dutch.
The jump roping sport swung its way into Central High School about four years ago when a group of eight senior girls expressed interest in continuing to practice after a lesson in gym class, said Deannie Cafferty, the high school's health and physical education teacher. With little experience in double Dutch herself, Cafferty said she and the students tied single ropes together to make double Dutch ropes, and spent weeks learning how to turn them and get the footwork down.
"It's something I always wanted to learn how to do," said Cafferty, who has been teaching in the Spring Cove School District for 31 years. "I guess it was on my bucket list, to learn how to double Dutch. So we took it upon ourselves to learn."
That eight-person group has grown to a collection of 62 kids who spend their homeroom time double Dutching. About 20 students, both male and female, also take part in an elective gym class, which has been named Jump for Fitness, and allows a diverse group of dedicated students more time to practice their skills.
"What a great way to start your day," Cafferty said. "I always tease them and say they're going to do much better in their classes because they're awake, alert and their blood is pumping."
Mirror photo by Beth Ann Downey
Practicing double Dutch jumping during homeroom period at Central High School, Martinsburg, are rope turners Macy Gottshall (left) and Lexie Mock, and jumpers Shaina McNally?(left) and Becca Butler.
For some students, the Jump for Fitness class is much more than something fun to do in the morning. Sarabeth Bean, 18, of Duncansville and a senior at Central High, said she decided to join the class to help her with footwork and coordination in basketball.
"It's actually making me quicker and jump higher," she said.
Harley Dixon, 18, of Roaring Spring and a junior at the school, said she had quit trying out for sports because of a hearing impairment until Cafferty told her to try double Dutch.
"I felt like I couldn't really play or participate in anything," Dixon said. "But double Dutch has definitely helped build up my confidence. Even with my hearing impairment, it doesn't stop me in anything I do."
With students from any year or background allowed to take the class as long as it fits into their schedule, Cafferty said Jump for Fitness has attracted a "real variety."
"It's not just the athletes, and it's just not the cheerleaders" she said. "It's art majors, it's kids in the band, it's students who don't do anything else."
Alexa Mock, 17, of Clappertown and a senior, said she likes double Dutching more than other sports because you don't have to be athletic to participate.
"Anybody can really double Dutch as long as you practice," she said. "You don't necessarily have to be the best athlete or anything like that. It's just something fun you can do, but it's definitely a workout in that sense, too."
For Kayla Shriver, 17, of Martins-burg, said double Dutch is both fun and non-competitive.
"I think it's fun because there's not winning or losing, and you can't argue or get mad about it," she said.
Just because these double Dutchers aren't competitive doesn't mean they aren't ambitious. Many students have quickly gone from just learning the footwork to being able to do flips, handstands and push-ups while jumping.
"They work on things, and they're very creative," Cafferty said. "The skills they're making up and picking up, it's just amazing."
Dave Crumrine, principal of Central High, said he's glad to see kids who didn't want to take a regular gym class do well in Jump for Fitness, and be able to perform difficult demonstrations.
"It's been really fun for me to sit and watch kids that you wouldn't think would be into that kind of physical activity really be interested," he said. "It's just a neat thing, and there's been a very positive response from kids across the district."
Cafferty and students in the Jump for Fitness class have made it a point to take what they learned outside of the gym by giving programs at middle schools, day camps and charity events, Cafferty said. She added that they not only take it upon themselves to teach younger kids about double Dutch, but also about eating right and fitness in general.
"They're advocates for lifetime fitness, that's what I tell them," she said. "And what better way to push fitness than with your high school kids? They're very good role models."
Shriber said she likes working with younger kids and teaching them the skills, especially when their "faces light up" after they realize they can do it, too.
"It's just a cool feeling, that they just want to jump with you and look up to you," she said.
Dixon said being able to teach the younger kids, even with her hearing impairment, may help give them better perspective that they can do what they set their mind to, no matter what the obstacle.
"I consider it a blessing just to be able to help out somebody else," she added. "Usually, someone is always helping me."
And for administrators like Crumrine, seeing the happy faces of the students he serves is equally as gratifying.
"Honestly, we're losing a lot of our electives with the way the budget is and the way things have been cut," he said. "So we're always looking for new things that we can do that the kids can get excited about."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.