Ligonier jump rope team promotes youth development, fitness

| Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, 12:03 p.m.

The driveways and parking lots of Ligonier are unique obstacles for one local sports team.

Members of the HT High Flyers jump rope team said it becomes a challenge to find a good, level surface to practice on at home, since many driveways in the Ligonier Valley are hilly or unpaved and the rough surfaces can ruin the plastic-covered rope.

The team, which includes about 40 boys and girls from ages 5 through 18, started as a demonstration team affiliated with Holy Trinity Catholic School in Ligonier for the American Heart Association, advocating the association's “Jump for Heart” events in schools.

Within the last two years, the team has become more of a community organization, affiliated with the Ligonier Valley YMCA, but retaining the “HT” in its name.

Head coach Laurie Whitsel, who has led the team since it began 10 years ago, said the wooden floor of the YMCA is ideal for jumping rope.

YMCA Executive Director Ben Wright and Whitsel point out that the two groups' missions are similar — promoting physical fitness and youth development through jump rope.

“It's one of the greatest forms of exercise,” Wright said. Confidence can be built through competing, he said.

Whitsel said the team also became more community-oriented to incorporate students from other area schools.

“Really, it was because more and more kids wanted to be part of our team,” she said. “It's been a tremendous partnership.”

Most High Flyers are active in other sports, like Whitsel's 15-year-old daughter Amy, who has been on the team since she was 5.

“It keeps you in really good shape for other sports and vice versa,” said Amy, a track and cross-country runner. “We have a lot of hard practices and that increases our ability to work out for a long time.”

The High Flyers travel to places like Chicago, New Orleans, Michigan and Texas for competitions and skills clinics.

Hannah Long, 10, of Cook Township said she likes to meet jumpers at the events.

“It's a really cool experience to learn new moves from them and teach them new moves,” she said.

The team has traveled to events at the White House, Capitol Hill and the Centers for Disease Control building in Washington, D.C.

Early next year, the team will perform at basketball half-time shows, as they have in the past, at the University of Pittsburgh, St. Vincent College and Bucknell University, as well as schools' events throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.

A public demonstration usually takes place in February at Ligonier Town Hall, Laurie Whitsel said.

Some team members will compete in the USA Jump Rope national championships and even move on to the world-level competitions. A few years ago, Amy Whitsel was chosen to participate in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City.

“I think of all the amazing experiences we've had across the country and in other countries because of one rope,” Laurie Whitsel said.

Nearby teams include one in Murrysville and another in Mars, but Amy Whitsel said not everyone understands the sport, which conjures images of children singing songs and skipping.

“What we do is way different from that,” she said.

In competitions, participants are judged on presentation and content difficulty.

Some jumpers get tendinitis, sprained ankles or worse injuries. One team member tore her hamstring last year and is still recovering.

“We're very careful about stretching, and make sure they warm up. And you have to be careful about over-training” as well as teaching to each appropriate age level, said Laurie Whitsel, who coached women's college soccer for six years at Penn State University and Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.

Cathleen Harr has been a team coach for three years, after spending eight years on the team. Her two daughters, 11-year-old Emily and 13-year-old Isabelle, enjoy jumping rope.

“It's extreme physical fitness — the kids are in great shape — but it is also a huge confidence builder,” she said.

Other members said they enjoy that the team includes boys and girls and mixes a wide age range of kids.

Long said she enjoys performing, even in the nearly two-hour Fort Ligonier Days parade that the team participates in annually.

“It's easier when you have adrenaline and the crowd cheering for you,” she said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or

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