TROY — For Ellie Brubaker, the Troy Pop Rocks jump rope team seemed almost heaven-sent.
“My mom noticed I wasn’t really enjoying soccer and she started praying I would find a sport I would enjoy like all the other members of my family enjoy their sports,” said Brubaker, an eighth grader on the Pop Rocks. “I love jump rope. I love the sport itself and how unique it is. I’ve been blessed to be a part of this team.”
Since the second grade, Brubaker has been a member of the Troy Pop Rocks, a performance jump rope team that performs during halftime of high school and college basketball games. For the past two summers, the team also has performed atop the dugouts and on the field at Dayton Dragons baseball games.
The team, which was founded by Josh Oakes, a physical education teacher at Heywood and Hook elementary schools in Troy, originally started as an after-school activity for a handful of jumpers. That first season culminated in a single performance in front of friends and family members. Since then, the team has grown to include between 25-29 jumpers and roughly 20 performances every year.
In addition to local high schools, the team also performs at colleges across the Midwest, including Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue, the University of Dayton and Ohio University. Last week, the Pop Rocks performed in front of more than 22,000 people at halftime of the Notre Dame vs. Louisville men’s basketball game in Kentucky.
On March 24, four eighth-grade Pop Rocks — Brubaker, Camille Scribner, Sadie Schaeffer and Maggie Wannemacher — will perform for the final time in their careers at the Ohio High School Athletic Association boys’ state basketball tournament. The team currently is composed of members in grades 3-8.
All four members of the team have made tremendous sacrifices to be a member of the Pop Rocks. After trying out in the spring, every person selected to the team completes individual summer training. Once the school year begins, organized team practices take up to 10 hours per week getting ready for the performance season, which typically begins in early December. Practices continue through the season, which wraps up in March.
“This is what I’ve been doing for the last five years of my life,” said Scribner, who joined the team when she was in fourth grade. “I quit ballet to do this. I chose this over learning to do horseback riding. I love being on this team. I love my teammates. Being on this team has also taught me so much. It’s definitely taught me how to be a leader.”
All four of the graduating Pop Rocks talked about how much being on the team has meant to them — and how much they are going to miss it once it ends in a few days.
“Being on this team means a lot to me,” said Wannemacher, who joined the team in fourth grade. “If I wasn’t on this team, I wouldn’t have met all of these people — and I wouldn’t be as open as I am now. I didn’t really have a sport before I joined the Pop Rocks. Once I started doing jump rope, it just caught on and I decided this is what I wanted to do. Being on this team can be crazy at times, but it’s worth it.”
Schaeffer, who joined the team in fifth grade, said she’s been so immersed in the team it’s hard to imagine what life was like before the Pop Rocks.
“Honestly, this has been like my whole life,” she said. “I’ve never done any other team. This team made me feel so welcome. I like going out and hearing people cheer for us. It makes me happy to be able to make other people happy. Even if I do another sport, it’s never going to be the same as this. I’ll never be this close to another group of people.”
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong