In a manner of speaking, Spokanes Deborah Wittwer sidestepped her way into business.
For many years, Wittwer coached a competitive jump-rope team here called Side Steps, which grew through the late 1980s and 1990s, competing in a national event televised on ESPN.
In 1997, after a decade of volunteer work in jump-rope, the former crosswalk guard opened Deborahs Jump Rope Academy. That enterprise has grown to where it now is teaching about 150 students on a monthly basis.
I never would have imagined this is what Id be doing with my life, says Wittwer, 46. I never would have guessed it would get this big.
Five years later, business is still jumping, and that keeps Wittwer hopping.
The school teaches three classes a day on weekdays at its own studio at 2727 N. Madelia on Spokanes North Side, and one class a week at Franklin Elementary and one a week at Adams Elementary. Students range in age from 2 to 18plus one 36-year-old father who jumps. Demand is growing, and this month, the school also is starting to teach classes weekly in Newport, Wash.
In addition to her instructional work, Wittwer is putting together a regional jump-rope competition, which she believes will be the first such event in Spokane. Slated to take place at Lewis & Clark High School in March, the event is expected to attract at least 10 teams with at least 250 jumpers.
On top of that, Wittwer owns a drywall subcontracting company, called R&B Wall Systems, that her late husband, Robin, operated until he died early last year. Their son, Byron, now manages that company, which is located in the same building as the jump-rope school.
Wittwer says the jump-rope school is doing well financially and remains her main focus. She says it has done well enough that income from it has helped to subsidize R&B Wall through a rough few months after her husbands death.
The jump-rope classes typically are small and include students of varying ages and skill levels. Students who are on competitive teams sometimes take classes together, but all students sign up for a time slot, rather than a class targeted at a certain age or skill level. That creates a mix of age and skill levels in each class, and the more-experienced jumpers show less-experienced children skill levels to aspire to, Wittwer says.
The school has six part-time staff members, all of whom are current or former students who work about five hours a week. Wittwers daughters, Michelle and Rachael, are grown, but both remain active jump-ropers who still sometimes help with classes.
Wittwer says she wants each student to receive one-on-one instruction during the one-hour classes.
About 60 percent of the students are girls and 40 percent are boys.
A student typically attends one one-hour class a week for which the school charges $35 a month.
While many students have been coming to the school for years, Wittwer says each student is signed up on a month-to-month basis.
Thats different from many other types of classessuch as gymnastics and dancethat typically require a student to make a one-year commitment, she says.
Having students enrolled month-to-month might not be a smart business decision, but I want the kids who are here to want to be here, Wittwer says.
If she lacks anything in pricing savvy, though, Wittwer appears to make up for it with her marketing acumen. On one wall of the dance-studio lobby hang more than a dozen newspaper photos of Wittwers students performing at various functions. Also, one of the academys competitive teams recently was on television, performing during a KHQ-TV food drive.
High difficulty level
Jump-rope, as taught by Wittwer, involves much more complexity, athleticism, and exertion than the schoolyard pastime most people remember from childhood.
Team jump-rope typically starts with a method called the double dutch, which is done while two rope handlers twirl a pair of ropes in opposite directions. The jumper must jump each rope in rapid succession, and typically while on one foot at a time.
That sounds hard enough, but competitive jump-rope involves a number of other tricks. In one, a jumper does push-ups in time with the quickly twirling ropesand clears each rope. In another stunt, a jumper lies down with his or her stomach or back on the floor and in a worm-like undulating motion, skips the rope.
The tricks, however, didnt start off that complex. In 1986, Wittwer first became involved in jump-rope while serving as a troop leader here for Girl Scouts. The troop she oversaw had decided to perform a jump-rope routine at a Girl Scout event at Farragut State Park, near Athol, Idaho. Wittwer bought some colored ropes and helped the girls put together a routine to the Phil Collins song, Sussudio.
Coincidentally, a jump-rope group from Eugene, Ore., also was performing at Farragut and saw Wittwers Girl Scouts perform.
The Eugene group invited the Spokane girls to a workshop it was sponsoring in Oregon later.
The Spokane girls formed a group and named it Side Steps, then traveled to Eugene for the workshop.
A year later, Side Steps returned to Eugene for a regional competition and placed second. It was the first of many Side Steps teams to place high in competitions at both the regional and national level and do well in individual categories.
The group spun off from Girl Scouts and began practicing in the street in front of Wittwers house, which is near NorthTown Mall on Spokanes North Side. Meanwhile, Wittwer received formal training in Greeley, Colo., from the International Rope Skipping Organizationwhich since has merged into the Huntsville, Texas-based U.S. Amateur Jump Rope Federationand became certified as a jump-rope instructor and competitive jump-rope competition judge.
In 1997, when she was coaching about 50 children on a volunteer basis, Wittwer opened the jump-rope academy, and 28 of the kids she had been coaching signed up as the businesss first students.
Wittwer says her classes promote aerobic activityfive minutes of jump-rope is comparable to running a mile, Wittwer assertsand improve students skills for other sports. For instance, a number of the academys jump-roping students have gone on to be successful in high school sports, such as basketball and track, she says.
I have made non-athletes into athletes, she says.
Wittwer says she skips rope regularly herself.
I plan on jump-roping until Im 70, she says.
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