TIGARD — Think jumping rope skipped the current generation? Not at St. Anthony School here where countless kids are kept in the loop.

For nearly three decades, members of the Saintly Skippers have laced up sneakers, grabbed ropes and spent time airborne, enjoying the schoolyard activity while raising awareness about heart health.  

The mixed-age demo teams of first- through eighth-graders are part of the annual Kids Heart Challenge through the American Heart Association. They begin practicing after school in October and perform for area schools. The demonstrations encourage students to give jumping rope a try.

St. Anthony’s beloved physical education instructor, Julie Sieg, recently wrapped up a season coaching three teams of around 95 students total — or almost one-third of the school population.

According to Sieg, who’s led the Saintly Skippers for 29 years, St. Anthony is the only school with a jump rope team in the Portland metro area.

The teams are “unique to us and simply a lot of fun,” said Sally Plasker, vice principal of St. Anthony. “And it makes people like me excited to remember jumping rope from our time on the playground.”

One of Sieg’s favorite parts of coaching the teams is watching students “learn the importance of perseverance and of not giving up,” she said.

She also loves seeing older kids assist younger children as mentors. “It’s a chance for them to be a teacher.”

Gary Beckley, associate superintendent of Portland archdiocesan schools, sends his first- and third-grade daughters to St. Anthony. He’s seen them thrive on the teams.

“It has given them so much confidence, and they really feel like an integral part of the school community — not just within their own class.”

All the skippers have an individual skill they demonstrate — from a basic jump to crisscrossing the ropes — and a partner trick. Each grade also has its own routine set to music. Sieg selects the tunes and choreographs sequences for the first- through fifth-graders, but the middle schoolers take on the responsibility of coordinating the routine and music on their own.    

The demo eventually moves to the long ropes, progressing from one rope to double Dutch and up to as many as four long ropes.

“The kids performing in front of the other schools is what amazes me most,” said Sieg. “I get nervous speaking in front of large groups and I’m not jumping rope.”

The coach regularly tells students during practice that it’s OK to make mistakes. “They are not perfect by any shape or form, but they keep on going.”

Sieg notes that jumping rope comes more naturally to some children than others. “There are kids who have to work really hard at it,” she said. But it’s not an easy activity for anyone. The rhythm and coordination required keeps the brain alert and “it’s a huge cardiovascular effort,” said Sieg.

Beckley participated in the American Heart Association’s jump rope challenge as a kid and continued to skip rope to train for competitive sports in college.

Now as a parent, he said it’s been a joy “seeing my girls have so much fun in an activity that is healthy and rewarding in so many ways.”

Along with the demo teams, St. Anthony raises around $5,000-$9,000 annually for the American Heart Association.