By LARRY VAUGHT
It’s really no surprise that the Firecrackers, a high performance jump rope team from just outside Cincinnati made of students in grades 4-8, wanted to meet members of the University of Kentucky dance before their annual performance in Rupp Arena last month.
The UK dance team is one of the nation’s best and performs precision routines like the Firecrackers, so I could understand the Firecrackers looking up to the dance team members.
However, what surprised me was how anxious Kentucky dance team members were to meet the Firecrackers. I didn't expect that reaction from college students over elementary and junior high performers.
“I think watching them when they come is inspiring to us because we know what it is like to work really hard on something and to show it in front of thousands of people,” said freshman Casey Sartore of Henderson County. “For them being as young as they are, it is just inspiring to watch how awesome they are and to see the crowd reaction whenever they perform.
“This was my first time seeing them and (dance team member) Kennedy (Fails) told me they were awesome and it was going to be great. Then you think, ‘What can little kids do with a jump rope?’ Then you watch and I was amazed. They got a standing ovation from 23,000 fans and that says a lot because they really deserved it.”
Junior Savannah Guzman says the Firecracker’s “amazing talent just draws people in” because of the team's age.
“When we were asked if a couple of us would go meet them, we were like, ‘They want to meet us?’ We wanted to meet them. They are like little superstars,” Guzman said.
Sophomore Kennedy Fails is from the Kings Local School District in Ohio, the same school district as the Firecrackers. She knows they really are superstars as shown by the venues they are invited to perform each year.
“It’s just an amazing program. I have cheered and danced with several of their alumni and all the work they put into it, the crowd loves them. They are so young and so little. It’s crazy they can do all that jump roping. It’s just awesome to see them. It never gets old watching them,” Fails said.
Fails actually considered joining the Firecrackers but stuck with cheerleading. However, she understands the impact the jump rope team has on others, especially the first time they see the Firecrackers perform.
“I tell them just to be prepared because it is going to be a show,” Fails said. “To hear they are looking up to you, it’s a reality that hits you that you are actually something to somebody and not just a dance team member.”
Sartore, who says she can barely do a single jump rope, says it meant a lot to her to know the Firecrackers respected them so much.
“Every day people tell you little girls are looking up to you and want to be like you and stuff like that. Meeting the Firecrackers kind of opens our eyes and shows us these are the kids that look up to us and this is why we do what we do,” Sartore said.
Guzman loves exercising with jump ropes and admits she would like to try some of the tricks the Firecrackers do even though she doubts she could do any of them. However, she understands why they might look up to college dance team members.
“I was definitely one of those little girls who when I saw all those dancers and cheerleaders at the games, that’s what I looked for,” Guzman, a North Laurel High School graduate, said. “That’s why I was at the games. When I saw their faces light up when they were with us, it makes all our hard work worth it.
“They are just little show-stoppers. They perform with their whole body. Their faces light up. They are there for themselves, their team and for the crowd. All that together gives them a huge stage presence and all of them moving together as one. It is phenomenal. They get a big reaction. They are one of a kind. I don’t see many things like that program, so when they get to be shown more and more, people are going to fall in love with them just like we do.”
That could well be the case in St. Louis at the Southeastern Conference Tournament. The Firecrackers, who performed at a Cleveland Cavaliers game last week, will perform on Saturday during the semifinals. They have performed at major national venues, but this will be their first SEC tourney trip.
Fails, who will be performing at her first SEC tourney with the UK dance team, thinks SEC fans are going to love the Firecrackers as much, or maybe more, than Kentucky fans.
“At the SEC Tournament, it’s not just Kentucky fans. Everybody has fans there. They (the Firecrackers) are crowd pleasers and are amazing at what they do,” Fails said. “Probably a lot of the SEC fans will have never heard of them or seen them before. But once they start performing, the fans are going to love them. You can’t help it. They just make you love them.”
Sartore understands why.
“Part of the reason they are so popular is they are so young. They are doing these crazy things and when the fans see how young they are, it’s impressive they can do all those things that we are doing,” Sartore said. “I think that is why they get such a big crowd reaction. They are just so young but so talented.”
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