By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
"Ready, set, go!" he chants. He jumps onto his hands, kicks into the air, lands back on his feet.
Over the years, the Warriors have traveled to competitions and performed at the city's St. Patrick's Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day parades. But turnover among their coaches has slowed their progress, and they were not aware of the March 31 jump rope competition in Miami Gardens. Chantel Miller, who used to coach a team in Lauderdale Lakes, says she began coaching the Warriors in March. Now she's training the Warriors so that six kids can compete in a tournament organized by Moody at Nova Southeastern University on May 19. The City of Fort Lauderdale will cover the Warriors' tournament fees. Lensley is one of the children Miller has selected to compete.
He's been jumping for five years and has outlasted many of his coaches. One of those former teachers, along with Lensley's dad, taught him how to do backflips. Now his parents are divorced, and his dad lives in West Virginia. "I miss my dad," Lensley confesses, as he takes a break from jumping to munch on Goldfish crackers.
In his spare time, Lensley likes to play basketball, soccer, and volleyball, listen to jazz and hip-hop. He boasts that he can speak "Haitian, kinda Spanish, kinda Chinese — oh yeah, and French." Jump rope is one of his many talents. "We do impossible stuff that some people can't do," he says.
When he grows up, Lensley is not certain what career path he will choose. Maybe he'll be a college football player; maybe not. "Whatever job that gives the most money," he says. He wants to make sure he can buy things, he explains solemnly, because his mom told him today that he will not be receiving any more allowance.
Back at the USA Jump Rope Region 13 Qualifying Tournament, tensions escalate by the hour. Veteran jumpers are trying to score high enough to advance to the national tournament. Younger, newer jumpers, such as Taryn Marriott, are simply trying to rank regionally. The Hurricane Jumpers are in constant motion, bouncing around the gym, practicing cartwheels, memorizing dance steps. The girls have their shiny hair pleated in identical braids. Their shoelaces are covered in fluorescent pink or green tape, to prevent tripping. The gym echoes with the steady slap of vinyl hitting the floor. "No Fear. No Excuses. Jump Rope," commands a bumper sticker on the wall.
Four teams are competing today: the Hurricane Jumpers, the Supersonics, the Jumpin' Beinz, and the Bobcat Jumpers. Although the Twirling Tigers talked about competing, the team never arrived.
Around 11 a.m., Amanda Sepe finishes her speed-jumping round and walks off the floor choking back tears. Her score wasn't as high as she'd hoped. She got 310 jumps in three minutes, while the highest score of the day was 381. "It's just a qualifier. Don't cry," her mom says briskly.
Amanda sits on the bleachers and snuffles anyway. She's the second child I've seen cry at this tournament. The anxiety in the room is enormous. "You OK, Amanda?" Her friend Catherine Salow appears, hovering. "You OK?" Catherine's voice is kind but not coddling. Life isn't fair, her tone admonishes. Buck up. Within minutes, Amanda has rejoined her friends, sitting cross-legged on the gym floor, eating sandwiches and chips.
After her freestyle performance, Taryn is still distraught. She returns to the bleachers shaking. "I dropped my rope twice," she says. "We didn't even finish our routine."
Yet she's still hoping for a medal. As the competition winds down for the day, all the jumpers gather on the gym floor, their eyes worried, their faces pinched. A table covered with brightly colored ribbons tempts them from the front of the room. The coach who organized this event, Dillon Bethell, takes a microphone and begins announcing the winners.
When her name is called, Taryn bounces to her feet in wide-eyed, joyous surprise. She wins three ribbons in three categories of speed jumping. Her mom appears, beaming and snapping photos. Taryn and Olivia pose gleefully, kneeling on the floor, displaying their awards. Taryn smiles modestly at the camera. She looks proud and relieved. Today, she is a champion.