All Joy Holman wanted was to create an after-school sports program for her students at Busbee Elementary School in Wagener, S.C.
She never imagined that Wagener would soon become the Double Dutch capital of the United States.
"I was trying to find something that would be of interest to girls, particularly teen-age girls, an activity for them to do after school," said Holman, a longtime physical education teacher at Busbee. "Double dutch seemed like a perfect sport because it was not a contact sport, and it was something anyone could learn."
More than 20 years later, the Wagener Double Dutch Forces team is one of most successful jump-roping teams in the nation.
The team features boys and girls ranging in age from five to 13. They've won national competitions and have traveled the country performing at major sporting events, including the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and during halftime at Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets games.
"Notre Dame called us last week," Holman said. "They want us to come up there and perform."
The Forces also have appeared on ESPN and will again jump before a national TV audience Dec. 20 when ESPN2 broadcasts the national championships at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
And it all was started by a woman who never before picked up a jump rope.
"I was an athlete - I played basketball, softball and volleyball and ran track, but I never jumped rope in my life," Holman said. "But I found out I could teach it. We got the programs started in Wagener and also one in Columbia through the parks and recreation department, and we've been able to do some pretty great things over the years."
Before gaining national fame for her double-dutch team, Holman was an accomplished athlete.
The Lexington, S.C., native, played professional basketball in the 1970s for the Dayton Rockettes of the Women's Basketball League, the first women's pro league. She also was recently inducted into the Benedict College sports hall of fame in Columbia.
At first, Holman said the challenge of getting the double-dutch program up and running was convincing the kids they could do it.
"Double dutch is something you see in the big cities," Holman said. "The kids felt like they couldn't do it because they're from a small town. Once we showed that first group of kids they could do it, the team really took off. The children - my jumpers - are much more aware now that it doesn't matter where they come from."
There are no tryouts or auditions to join the Forces, and the cost is only $25 a year, Holman said. The team practices twice a week in the Busbee Elementary gym.
Team sponsors, including former NBA star and Lexington native Xavier McDaniel, help with the costs of travel to competitions and performances.
"We have an open-door policy - whoever wants to come out with the right attitude and can be well behaved can be on the team," Holman said. "All I expect of them is to work hard and have fun."
That philosophy has worked wonders for hundreds of Wagener children.
"It's a great experience for the kids and it teaches them team spirit and teamwork," said John Doolittle, whose 13-year-old daughter, Lacie, is one of the Double Dutch Forces top jumpers. "It teaches the kids how to work together."
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.
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