The guys back in the old neighborhood when I was growing up used to tease me and call me a sissy every time they caught me jumping rope with my sisters.

The guys back in the old neighborhood when I was growing up used to tease me and call me a sissy every time they caught me jumping rope with my sisters.

That was a girl’s game according to them. In turn, the girls used to laugh and tease me because I wasn’t very good. Somehow, my feet always got tangled in the rope and tripped me up, and down I would go – just one of those games that I never did get the hang of very well. To make matters worse, the girls sang ritual chants about me while we were jumping:

I had a little brother,

His name was Tiny Ted.

I put him in the wash tub

To teach him how to swim.

He drank up all the water,

He ate up all the soap.

But sorry to say he died last night

With a bubble in his throat.

It was not until I got into high school gym class that I realized that boys actually did jump rope and were every bit as good as the girls back home. I just couldn’t seem to win, though, because I still wasn’t very good at it, and the coach said I jumped rope like a sissy.

Actually, it probably was a boy’s game at one time, back when girls were told to keep their ruffles clean, but times have changed down through the years. Today, almost as many adults jump rope as there are children jumping. Jump rope has probably been around since the beginning of time and there are many versions of the game.

Worldwide and centuries old, jump rope is hardly the dumb game that I thought it was back in my youth. All it requires is a rope, although in Hungary plaited straw will do. In Sweden, a stiff piece of wicker is all right. Spanish kids have been seen jumping rope with leather strips, and the Cherokee jumped honeysuckle vines.

In Greece, they use elastic; the two “enders” stretch it between their ankles, and the jumper has to perform intricate maneuvers in and out without touching the elastic. A game similar to that is played with a whole circle of kids. It is called American ropes, except it is not played much in America. Actually, it is a Scottish version of a Chinese version of a Greek idea. But, it is all jump rope just the same.

My sister tells me that in the lore and lingo of her school yard days, a “white sheep,” or skilled jumper, might have been tested by “Double Dutch,” a tricky game in which two ropes are turned at once. Fast turning was widely known as “pepper” or “hot pepper” (even faster) – though in some neighborhoods it was called “bullets,” “vinegar,” “red hot bricks,” “hot peas with butter” or “hot tamales.” Whatever it was called, the pace was whipping fast.

Nowadays executives and old ladies and people who hate jogging jump rope for muscle tone and cardio health; the boxing champ, Muhammad Ali, always jumped rope to get in shape before each fight.

Doctors, who have made us Americans aware of the benefits of rigorous exercise, equate 10 minutes of jumping rope with running a mile in the same time. A regular program of jumping rope, carefully graduated, can vastly improve the functioning of the heart and lungs, lower the heart rate and actually increase the number of blood vessels in the body.

But, to my sisters back in the old neighborhood, jumping rope was just good, clean fun and a chance to tease their brother.



In cooperation with The Examiner, Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior or school groups.