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Double Dutch? Kids jump to it

The sport is catching on with a new generation in the bay area.

Ana Gonzalez grew up in Chicago, where little girls believed sidewalks were created for jumping rope. She'd double Dutch with her friends, chanting lyrics to the beat of ropes slapping against pavement, until the sun went down.

"All the girls on the block would double Dutch together," she said. "We'd sing songs. It was a lot of fun."

But when Gonzalez moved to Tampa three years ago, the art of double Dutch was nowhere to be found.

"It just faded away," said Gonzalez, now 37. "They just didn't do it here."

But all that is about to change. Gonzalez's daughter is among hundreds of children in Tampa and Clearwater who are spending their summer learning double Dutch, in which a person jumps between two whirling ropes, challenging his or her coordination and endurance.

Coaches from the National Double Dutch League, a non-profit group from New York, are in the area for six weeks as part of a nationwide tour to introduce the sport to a new generation of kids.

They're practicing fancy moves, quick skips and inspirational chants _ a twist on the jump-roping days of World War II, when little girls twirled clotheslines.

The sport was first practiced by ancient Egyptian rope makers and introduced in the 1600s by Dutch settlers to the trading town of New Amsterdam, which is now New York City.

The rules for present-day double Dutch were created in Harlem. David A. Walker was a New York City street cop who wanted to fill a void for girls looking to compete in team sports. He laid down rules and started the Double Dutch League.

Today, his coaches travel the world teaching this form of jumping rope to kids who have seen it only in movies and on television.

The Tampa Housing Authority, a sponsor of the program, is finding the activity a surprise draw. It's the most popular offering this summer, and to their delight, it happens to be geared toward young women.

"We've got an awful lot of stuff going on for the guys," said Jerome Ryans, executive director of the Tampa Housing Authority. "We needed to develop more programs for our young ladies."

When the Double Dutch League approached the Housing Authority about sending coaches down for lessons, Ryans said he was a little skeptical.

But after visiting some public housing sites and seeing the kids _ some of them boys _ clamor to participate, he was convinced.

"It's a cheap event," he said. "You don't have to be an expert. You don't have to have a uniform. All you have to have is a rope. It's been a phenomenal experience."

The Housing Authority is spending $4,500 for the six weeks of lessons. The money comes from a federal drug elimination grant through the Department of Urban Development.

The city of Clearwater's Recreation Department and the Center of Excellence, a private, non-profit agency in Tampa, also paid for clinics.

On Wednesday, Double Dutch League coach Sheana Sinclair held a second lesson at the Cutlass Arms housing project, where a dozen kids lined up to test their skills.

Gonzalez's daughter, Jesenia Solis, was among the group, trying to hone her jumping abilities. So far during the camp, she ranks second in the bay area for number of jumps without getting tangled between the ropes.

Jesenia, 13, has shown a dedication and natural talent that may take her to New York for the national double Dutch championships someday, Sinclair said.

Gonzalez watched as her daughter's feet cleared the ropes that were being swung in round, inward, alternate motions.

"That's me all over again," she said, beaming.

Gonzalez went back to her apartment and came back with tennis shoes.

"It's been such a long time," she said. "I'm afraid I'll fall."

But the memories were too much for Gonzalez, so she took a crack at it.

Her feet moved so fast, the rope turners had to quicken their pace.

"My heart's beating," she said. "I feel like a child again."

Gonzalez wasn't the only one brought back in time.

Sam Harris, a crime and management analyst at the housing authority, recalled his childhood in Washington, D.C., as he turned the ropes.

"I can remember being on the street, with a lot of activities," said Harris, 55. "My sisters used to double Dutch with all their friends. It was a good time. It was a neighborly time."

Harris said he never double Dutched growing up, but he was pleased to see boys trying it out Wednesday.

Ramon Rosado, 15, is among 50 boys who have signed up to learn. He said it doesn't bother him that he's interested in a sport dominated by women.

"It's exhilarating and fun," he said. "The girls are better, but I'm going to practice. I want to get better and better."

Double Dutch is so popular in New York that the boroughs compete for bragging rights.

Today, the annual competition draws jumpers from all over the world.

"Florida is craving for the activity," said Walker, the founder, who is now retired and still living in New York. "There are a lot of other activities available in Florida, but people are recognizing the tremendous value in team concept in this activity."

Walker said he wants to see new competitors from Florida grab the title from double Dutchers in Japan, winners for the past three years.

His organization's coaches introduced the sport to the Japanese.

"We need to try to overthrow the great team from Japan," he said. "I hope to see a team from Tampa do it."

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