NORTH AUGUSTA — Blink, and risk missing the swift-moving, dexterous hands and stellar concentration of an 11-year-old speed stacking champion.
Jackson Cooper spends three hours after school building and disassembling pyramids of plastic cups at lightning speed.
The fifth-grader at Belvedere Elementary School has earned several dozen red, blue and green medals and trophies from speed stacking competitions.
The World Sport Stacking Association was formed in 2001 in the advent of a world phenomenon in which individuals or teams stack plastic cups in specific sequences in as little time as possible.
At the World Sport Stacking Championships held March 24 and 25 in Colorado Springs, Colo., Jackson placed first in two individual events for his age group – both with times between 2 and 3 seconds. He has also traveled to tournaments across the Southeast taking top honors.
Jackson began speed stacking in third grade when his physical education teacher, Linda Duckett, introduced the school to the sport. Duckett and Jackson’s mother, Mary Beth Cooper, found the sport benefitted children’s concentration and hand-eye coordination, which helped in academics and other sports.
As to why Jackson practices after school and more than 10 hours on the weekend: “One thing, I’m good at it and I keep on winning. Another thing is, it’s just fun.”
The two younger Cooper children – Peyton, 7, and Brenna, 5 – also stack cups. When all three practice at the kitchen table, the whooshing sound as cups fly into pyramids and just as quickly tumble creates noisy afternoons, their mother said.
Out of habit, Jackson sticks his tongue slightly out of his mouth during the mere seconds of each stack.
“It helps me to keep my balance. If I don’t, I’m more likely to mess up,” he said.
An automated timer begins when Jackson lifts his hands from a starting pad. The timer counts by the hundredths of seconds and only ends when the stacker’s hands return to the starting spot.
When Jackson finishes a stack in a satisfactory time, he shouts out the time, claps his hands together once and throws his fists into the air.
“7.96. Yessss,” Jackson exclaimed after completing the “cycle,” a sequence of stacks combining eight pyramids. Jackson lost a tiebreaker for first place in the cycle at the championships.
Jackson competes next at his school event April 27. At the end of July, he travels to Texas for the 2012 AAU Junior Olympic Games Sport Stacking Championships.
Brett Cooper, Jackson’s father, said he never needs to encourage his son to practice, but sometimes reminds him to take a break – especially if he grows frustrated.
“From a parent’s perspective, you just want your child to be passionate about something,” Cooper said.