"Get on the bus, pay your fare and tell the driver that you're going to a Double Dutch affair," goes a popular song being sung on city playgrounds.
That's exactly what 359 girls and one boy, fourth to tenth graders, did Saturday when they competed in the sixth National Double Dutch Contest.
The event, sponsored by the Fifth District Police and held on the Capitol grounds, drew the fastest, most sure-footed, best coordinated and most imaginative jumpers from 80 District schools.
Double Dutch, as anyone will tell you, is no easy sport to master. Two ropes are turned egg-beater fashion, while a jumper hops in the space between them.
"Concentration is the key. Once you lose it, you may never regain the rhythm," explained Annette Thornton, gym teacher and coach at H.D. Cooke Elementary School in Northwest. Her girls claimed 10 first place trophies.
Three-member singles teams and four-member doubles teams competed in three areas: a grueling two-minute speed test, a 30-second compulsory section and one minute of freestyle jumping. Trophies were awarded to every member of winning singles and doubles teams in each grade.
Tricks included a liberal use of flips, cartwheels, hula hoops and additional jump ropes.
The crowd went wild when Arletha Jackson, 15, from Northeast, came out blindfolded and jumped while bouncing a basketball.
There were cheers, too, for 12-year-old Darrell Spriggs, a fifth grader from Congress Heights Elementary School in Southeast and the only boy to compete, who did a cartwheel and a split -- all without touching the ropes.
When the competition was over, Eliot Junior High School in Northeast had successfully defended its reputation as the champion school by winning 14 first place trophies.
Eliot's eighth grade doubles team, coached by Alice Adams, gym teacher and veteran of all six Double Dutch competitions, emerged as high scorer with a whopping 703 points -- 35 more than its nearest competitor.
Teammates Angela Peterson, Angela Murphy, Janice Makal and Rhonda Walker, 13- and 14-year-olds from Northeast, clutched their trophies and hugged each other for joy.
"It feels great, but I knew we would win," admitted Murphy, all smiles.
D.C. Boxing Commission member Cora Wilds was on hand to encourage the jumpers. "I envy you," she told the girls. "I remember when I was a child, attempting to jump Double Dutch."
Camille Mason, community relations officer with the Fifth District police introduced the Double Dutch program in the city in 1976 after securing a grant from Mobil. "There's a real lack of supervised activities for girls," she said. "Double Dutch is good because it strengthens their bodies and teaches them to work together."
At one point, seven cities participated in a national jump-off in Washington, but shrinking funds limited this year's program to Washington and New York. Mobil's grant totaled $10,000 this year, which Mason used to buy yellow and white uniforms, T-shirts, trophies, ropes and rulebooks.
This year's competition may be the last, as Mobil announced recently it will no longer fund the event.
Mason says she is looking for other financial backers, however, because she knows interest in the sport is strong.
As coach Leslie Lee from Lincoln Junior High School in Northwest said: "My girls are really enthusiastic. They come to school in September saying, 'When are we going to start practicing for Double Dutch?'"