Double Dutch: From Street Game To Sport

Peter Amaker, 17, and teammates compete in a double Dutch competition. i i

Peter Amaker, 17 (center), with teammates from the High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety, competes in the singles freestyle round of the double Dutch meet in New York. Beth Fertig for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Beth Fertig for NPR
Peter Amaker, 17, and teammates compete in a double Dutch competition.

Peter Amaker, 17 (center), with teammates from the High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety, competes in the singles freestyle round of the double Dutch meet in New York.

Beth Fertig for NPR

You've probably seen it in school yards — kids doing fancy jumps between two moving ropes. Double Dutch is often considered a street game associated mostly with black girls.

But there are serious competitions for double Dutch. And it's now a varsity sport in New York City.

More Than Just Jumping

For 17-year-old Nacadia Facey, double Dutch was just something she played with her friends in Brooklyn during the summers. But that changed last year when she joined her school's double Dutch team.

"A lot of people don't regard double Dutch as a sport, and I'm not really athletic in anything else," she says. "I decided to join the team because it's something I can actually do."

Last year, New York City put double Dutch on the same footing as basketball, softball and tennis to get more girls involved in sports.

Facey and her teammates from Benjamin Banneker Academy in Brooklyn are among about 175 other students warming up in a Bronx gymnasium on a recent Saturday morning, right before a big meet. Two of the girls from Banneker hold a pair of long white ropes, which they twist and turn as a third girl jumps between them.

But jumping isn't really the right word. Facey says there are lots of moves and each has its own name.

"We have a leg lift where you lift your leg up in the air and spin around in a circle," she says. "We also have mountain climb and jumping jacks."

The real trick is not getting caught in the ropes.

Fast Feet

A few feet away, Leticia Stevens from Curtis High School on Staten Island lands on a rope while doing a split.

"I always get stuck," Stevens says. "But then … when it's time to actually do it I usually get it."

The teams are scored on moves and speed — the number of steps a jumper can make in two minutes, says scorekeeper Linda Brown.

Winsome McIntosh, Leilani Rhodes and Nacadia Facey of Benjamin Banneker High in Brooklyn, N.Y. i i

Winsome McIntosh, Leilani Rhodes and Nacadia Facey of Benjamin Banneker High in Brooklyn. Beth Fertig for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Beth Fertig for NPR
Winsome McIntosh, Leilani Rhodes and Nacadia Facey of Benjamin Banneker High in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Winsome McIntosh, Leilani Rhodes and Nacadia Facey of Benjamin Banneker High in Brooklyn.

Beth Fertig for NPR

"You count the left foot only," she says. "That's how you judge the speed."

Most girls jump between 300 to 400 steps — the higher numbers in two minutes, Brown says.

Counting both feet, that's about 600 or 800 steps.

At this meet, the High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety easily takes the lead. Seventeen-year-old Peter Amaker makes 320 steps in two minutes without ever getting caught in the ropes.

Amaker has a big advantage. He's been competing in double Dutch leagues since he was 12 and belongs to a local team that won the world championship. He's one of only four boys in the public school system's league. But he says the sport's definitely not just for girls.

"A lot of boys try, but they can't do it," Amaker says.

The High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety easily won the meet that weekend.

The city's double Dutch season ends in May. So far only 19 schools are competing. But students hope more kids participate. And some day, they'd even like to see double Dutch in the Olympics.

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