The toughest part Maryann Gumness has in coordinating the Swinging Safari rope jumping team is finding a place for the precision group to practice.
“It is just about impossible to get the gym time,” the Bloomer Middle School art teacher said.
So the team, a staple of the Bloomer Annual Rope Jump, has been flexible about where they work on their three routines for the Jan. 30 contest.
“It’s hard to practice in the hallway and the lunch room, but we’re doing the best we can,” she said.
They are working on their routines for three performances for what is a special year for the rope jump — its 50th anniversary. Over 200 jumpers are expected to participate in the contest, which was started by then-Bloomer physical education teacher Wally Mohrman.
Mohrman was searching for an activity for students to do during the winter. So in 1960, he began the rope jump contest, where students in grades 1-8 compete to see who can jump rope the most times in 10 seconds. (The contest now also includes adults.)
Mohrman then formed the Swinging Safari, a group that does precision rope jumping routines to music.
Mohrman’s idea for a rope jump became a national sensation. Bloomer became known as the rope jump capital of the world after being featured on both NBC’s “Real People,” a reality program that aired from 1979-1984, and “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”
It was on the latter show that Gumness’ brother, Paul Morning, appeared. He set the world record of 72 jumps in 10 seconds that still stands.
Gumness said her brother continues to promote the rope jump as a way to getting students active.
“He’s 45 now himself,” she said, and students wonder how he can still hold the record.
“When he gets out there and jumps rope, then it’s a different story,” she said, adding her daughter, Erin Martin, will sing the national anthem the night of the championship round.
Gumness got her start with the Swinging Safari when she was a middle school student. The group had 125 members then.
About 25 years ago, Gumness took over the leadership of the Safari. For a few years her sister-in-law, Cathy Morning, ran the group.
Some years the Safari has had as few as 10 to 15 students.
“Kids are more busy these days,” Gumness said.
Fortunately, over 30 students decided to try out for this year’s squad. They include students from the fourth to the ninth grades.
Practices began on Jan. 9. “It’s hard to get kids over Christmas break,” Gumness explained.
In previous years, the Safari has performed one routine during the rope jump. But because this is the 50th anniversary, the group will perform three routines.
“This is the first year in a very long time that we are doing a black light group,” Gumness said. That routine had to be scrapped for years because it took the lights at the high school 15 minutes to turn back on once they were shut off. Now the school has a new lighting system where the lights can be turned on much quicker.
Other routines the Safari is practicing involves trick jumping and the students’ favorite, a dance team rope jump.
“I really think this middle school rope jump dancing will be popular,” she said.
Gumness estimates it takes about 100 hours to organize the group’s performance, including getting costumes ready, T-shirts and enough ropes. Then the students go through about 30 hours of practice with Gumness. She said some students also practice on their own during study hall.
Some students complain of the pain they have after practicing, because they are jumping continually during the routines. Gumness understands. “My right calf was really sore that first practice.”
But she tries to impress on the Safari members they will be performing for three minutes at a time during the jump rope competition.
Gumness said she talks individually with the students in the Safari. She said what’s interesting is to hear the students saying that their mothers also jumped for the Swinging Safari.
“That’s where I think it’s nice that we’re carrying on something,” she said.