A warm breeze blew gently as the red and blue jump rope made a friendly slapping noise each time it hit the sidewalk.
“Your turn, Jill,” Kerry said, hopping away from the swishing rope.
“No, thanks,” Jill said. “I don’t feel like jumping today. You take my turn, Tina. I’ll keep turning.”
“OK,” Tina agreed, handing her end of the rope to Kerry.
“What do you want to do?” Shelly asked.
“Oh, Down in the Meadow, I guess,” Tina said. “But not too fast. I’m wearing my good shoes, and I don’t want to scuff them.”
“I’m getting tired,” Tina puffed as she counted, “Sixty-four, sixty-five …”
“Come on, Tina!” Jill cheered. “You can do eighty easily.” She turned her end of the rope carefully, making sure it hit the sidewalk each time.
Tina smiled and jumped out. “Whew! I did it. Want to jump now, Jill?”
“No, thanks. Go ahead, Shelly. I’ll still turn.”
“Jumping rope again?” Tommy asked with a sneer. “Don’t girls know how to do anything else?” He laughed mockingly and turned to the boys with him. “Come on. Let’s play softball.”
“You just play softball because you can’t jump rope,” Kerry retorted. Tina jumped eighty times doing Down in the Meadow. Can any of you do better than that?”
“I bet I can,” Jim said.
“OK, let’s see you do it.” Shelly and Jill got the rope going again.
“Down in the mead—” The girls giggled as Jim missed.
“Come on,” Tommy said. “This is sissy stuff. Everybody knows that all girls can jump rope. They’re born knowing how.”
Jill frowned as Tommy and the other boys ran off and chose sides for a softball game.
That evening at dinner, Jill asked her mother, “Can you jump rope?”
“Well, I haven’t for some time, but I used to when I was in grade school. Why?”
“Did you always know how? I mean, did you have to learn?”
“I don’t really remember,” Mother replied.
“Tommy says that all girls are born knowing how to jump rope. Is that true?”
“I don’t think so, Jill.”
“What’s the matter—can’t you jump?” Jill’s brother, Michael, asked.
“No,” Jill said, staring at the peas on her plate.
“You can’t?” Michael laughed. “I’ll bet you’re the only girl in third grade who can’t. Boy, that’s funny. Wait till I tell Bobby and Pete!”
“Oh, please don’t tell them!” Jill pleaded. “Not even my best friends know. I give up my turn each time, and pretty soon the bell rings and nobody knows.”
Seeing the tears in his little sister’s eyes, Michael said, “I won’t tell, I promise.”
When Jill came home from school the next afternoon, she found a box wrapped in red polka-dot paper on the kitchen table. The tag read, “To Jill.”
Jill removed the puffy white bow and red paper. She lifted one corner of the lid cautiously, in case it was a joke from Michael. In the box was a brand-new jump rope. On the end of each wooden hand grip were Jill’s initials, J.M. “This is fantastic!” Jill exclaimed. She read the neatly printed card in the box: ‘To Jill from Michael. Sorry I hurt your feelings.’
“Sometimes big brothers are all right,” Jill told Mother. “I’ll be outside learning how to jump rope.”
Jill adjusted the rope to the right length. She swung it behind her back, took a deep breath, and turned the rope over her head. One foot jumped neatly as the rope came around, but the other foot got caught.
“Oops!” Jill started over.
The next time neither foot cleared the rope.
“Rats!” She tried again and again, but each time the rope failed to make a full circle.
When Mother called her for dinner, Jill said disconsolately, “I can’t do it. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t do it. I’ll never learn.”
“But you’ve only tried once,” Michael argued. “You have to practice.”
“Tina and Kerry can jump,” Jill said. “So can Shelly. They don’t practice. Kerry can even do lots of hot peppers.”
“Some things come easier to some people than to others,” Mother said consolingly. “You can draw better than they can, for instance. Just keep practicing and be patient.”
The next day after school, Jill managed to jump the rope a few times. After dinner she practiced until it was dark.
“It’s no use,” Jill said angrily. “I’m going to be awful at field day next week. Tina and I are partners for the jump-rope contest, and I’ll embarrass us both!”
“You have to keep practicing,” Michael advised her wisely.
“You’re doing better. A few days ago you couldn’t jump at all.”
The next day when Jill started to practice, she jumped several times before she missed. By the end of the evening she had jumped twenty-eight jumps in a row! But by the end of the week, the best she had done was fifty-two jumps.
On the morning of field day Jill thought about pretending to be sick so that she wouldn’t have to go to school. This is the day that everyone will find out that I can’t jump rope very well, she thought. Tommy is really going to tease me. Jill purposely went to the back of the line while the judge explained the rules. Each contestant would jump alone as many times as he could. His score would be counted and added to his partner’s score.
Tina’s going to hate me, Jill thought. By the time their turn came, the score to beat was 191, jumped by Kerry and Shelly.
“You go first,” Jill said to Tina.
Tina swung her rope behind her back expertly.
“One, two …” the judge counted.
She doesn’t even watch the rope, Jill noticed.
“Seventy-four, seventy-five—” The rope caught on Tina’s heel.
“Seventy-four,” the judge said, marking the score on his clipboard. “Next.”
“Sorry,” Tina said. “Come on, Jill. I’m counting on you.”
“But I’ll have to jump almost a hundred twenty times for us to beat Kerry and Shelly’s record!”
“You can do it!” Tina said.
“I’ve never even jumped half that many times!” Jill faltered.
“Well, do your best,” Tina said.
Jill slowly swung her rope back.
“One, two …” the judge counted. And before Jill could really think about it, the judge was counting, “fifty-four, fifty-five …”
Jill kept turning the rope and jumping.
“Ninety-four, ninety-five …” Jill’s heart was thumping hard. Maybe I can do it, she thought. I’m still jumping.
Half the school were crowded around Jill now, and her classmates were counting excitedly with the judge.
“Go, Jill” Tina screamed.
“A hundred nine, a hundred ten …”
The crowd surrounding Jill screamed and clapped when, gasping heavily, she reached 118.
“First prize goes to Tina and Jill,” said the judge, pinning a blue ribbon to Jill’s sweater and another one to Tina’s blouse.
“You were fantastic! You’re a jump-rope genius,” Tina said, hugging her friend.
“Mike told me the secret,” Jill said, glancing proudly at her beaming brother. “You just have to keep on practicing.”