The Firecrackers were back in Lexington Saturday afternoon and once again, they blew the roof off of Rupp Arena. The performance jump rope group, which is comprised of fourth through eighth graders from Ohio, is a fan favorite for the BBN, and they only visit once a season.
Throughout their school year, the Firecrackers travel to different games across the country to perform. This year alone, they’re performing in front of over a dozen high schools, colleges and even NBA teams. But there’s one place that’s always their favorite.
“Rupp Arena, by far,” one of the girls said as the others nodded. “The experience you have here feels like home, even though this is not our home. They bring us in their arena and make us feel loved.”
“It’s really special. It’s a good feeling,” another Firecracker added.
The atmosphere is great, but there’s another reason the group loves coming to Lexington.
“I love coming to Rupp Arena because they give us a bus to come here and we have the best time,” one girl said with a smile. “We get to party and hang out and talk.”
— The Firecrackers (@FirecrackersThe) February 15, 2020
The group’s head coach, Lynn Kelley, has been bringing her team to Rupp Arena for 20 years, but she still remembers her very first trip to Lexington.
“I remember the first time we came here, it was overwhelming to see that sea of blue. I thought how in the world did we get here? I had no clue,” Kelley remembered.
Even now, it still amazes her.
“[You] never get used to that sea of blue, no,” Kelley laughed.
Throughout her time as the Firecrackers’ coach, Kelley has seen former jump ropers go on to do great things, including pursuing careers as teachers, nurses and doctors. When the group performs for different colleges across the country, the team gets the chance to connect with former Firecrackers to get advice on that particular arena and the crowd before their performance. It’s created a family-like atmosphere for multiple “generations” of Firecrackers.
“We usually take private lessons with old Firecrackers,” one group member explained. “It’s like a mentorship. Once you’re on the firecrackers and you learn the older girls’ names, you’re like a whole big family.”
Several of the girls on the team said they’re Kentucky fans, which makes their performance inside Rupp Arena even more exciting each year. It’s hard to believe, but the Firecrackers aren’t really that different than Kentucky’s basketball team. They too have a coach that yells “only if we aren’t listening,” and a coach with plenty of signature sayings. While John Calipari has “fight and finish” and “we’re everybody’s Super Bowl,” Coach Kelley prefers “work will win when wishing won’t” and “you are what you repeatedly do, therefore excellence is a habit.”
Plus, my personal favorite: “when you pick up the gnats and flees, you get a masterpiece.”
View this post on Instagram
Just like the UK basketball team, the Firecrackers spend time studying their film.
“We have someone videotape the performance, and when we get back home we watch it and we pause it,” one young Firecracker explained. “We see what we could do better, what we did good and what we did to make that happen.”
What they do is no joke; the group typically practices for two hours a day, five to six days per week. But it’s not all jump roping. The Firecrackers are a well-rounded group. To practice that, they spend the summer taking etiquette classes as a team.
“Etiquette is a big part of Firecrackers and a big part of the world,” one group member said. We want to show we are nice people and we’re well educated… It’s a good skill to have later in life.”
— Maggie Davis (@MaggieDavisKSR) February 15, 2020
Their advice for beginners?
“Keep the rope on the ground, keep your hands by your hips, jump really high, just think about what you’re doing… If you think you’re jumping too high, you’re not. Jump higher.”
And, perhaps most importantly, always remember perseverance is key.
“Learning not to give up,” one Firecracker said when asked about the hardest part of jump roping. “It’s really hard and you might want to give up, but you just have to keep pushing.”
At the end of the day, the Firecrackers simply love what they do.
“We’re very fortunate we get to be on this team,” one member said with a smile. “We can travel around the world and perform for other people and make people happy.”
If the Wildcats keep improving, fans could get the chance to see the Firecrackers again this season. The group will be performing at the SEC Tournament’s final game in Nashville. In the mean time, you can watch their full performance here, thanks to KSR’s amazing videographer, Bradley McKee.
For more on the group, check out their website here.