DALLAS — All it takes is a hop, skip or a jump.
Jump roping is something most people learn as a kid.
Few remember lasting lessons from it.
That’s not the case for those who have taken part in Rope Busters under Jim Dent’s direction. Kids may come for the fun, but they’ve left with so much more.
“There’s so much he teaches us,” Lynn Gumpinger, a senior at Dallas High School, said. “We’re one big family. (Jim and his wife Lola) are two of my favorite people. They’ve earned the love of this community.”
Jim has been a fixture in the Dallas School District for decades.
Trenda Locke was paired with Jim during her student teaching. It was immediately apparent that he was not like any other teacher she had encountered.
“He was a teacher that, though he could be pretty stern, had a good connection with the kids,” Locke said. “They knew when he was joking. He could be tough, but also had a good way of being light-hearted with them. He had high expectations for everyone and ran a tight ship.”
Even after “retiring” in 2000, he has served as a substitute teacher and brought some of his clock collection to share with students.
“He has really varied interests,” Locke said. “He’ll do these little classes. He’s into gardening and brings in plants to share with teachers. He’s supportive of kids who are Rope Busters, going to their events when he can. He’s done a lot for this district.”
So much so that the gymnasium at Lyle Elementary School will be named in his honor.
Perhaps the thing he’s most known for now, the Rope Busters, wasn’t something he thought he’d be doing to this day.
The Rope Busters began in 1981, after Jim attended a physical education conference.
“A lady there had a team, and I got to talking to her,” he said. “She said let me come to your school and perform. I thought, ‘Hey, I could do this.’”
It wasn’t long before the American Heart Association contacted him to get involved, and the Rope Busters team was off and running.
It’s not uncommon for the team to attract around 100 kids each year. The kids find a joy in the simplicity, yet challenge that jump rope provides, Jim said. He’s also out to promote things that he knows parents want to be instilled.
“Behavior, responsibility, I try to promote those things,” Jim said. “I expect them to be responsible. I expect them to work. I also think it basically comes down to a three-lettered word — fun. If they are having fun, then they are going to put in the work.”
Tiffany Crishman has seen a noticeable difference in her daughter, Audrey.
Seeing the thrill of performing and mastering a new trick never gets old, Dent said.
“They will tell me that they can’t do something,” Dent said. “Then I say show me what you can do. I give them a few pointers and all of a sudden, they try something, and they say, ‘Hey, I think I did it.’ I say I think you did too. Now, do it again.”
Many jumpers stay in the program for multiple years, Dent said. Gumpinger was a regular member until her sophomore year and still visits the team once in a while — a testament to what she took away from her time with the team.
“You gain confidence in yourself,” she said. “He makes you work with different people, so you get to know new people and learn to work with all kinds of people. The older kids become mentors to the younger kids. You learn how to take care of people. We even work with college kids sometimes and we see how to communicate with older people when we wouldn’t have had that opportunity elsewhere.”
Jim is quick to point toward others for the success of the program.
“The secret to the success of the program isn’t me; it’s not the kids; it’s the parents,” Jim said. “They teach kids the right things. If it weren’t for the parents I don’t think the program would grow.”
To those who he’s affected, the real difference maker is clear.
“I love the environment he creates,” Gumpinger said. “You can tell he really cares about each kid.”