School holds 22nd annual Jump Rope for Heart

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Irby Elementary students have participated in Jump Rope for Heart for 22 years. Students jumped rope with their classmates Feb. 11 to raise funds for the American Heart Association.

ALACHUA – Jump Rope for Heart has a special meaning to McKenzie Kozma, a second grader at Irby Elementary. Born with a hole in her heart, McKenzie was front and center Wednesday morning, encouraging her classmates to “Jump Rope for Heart.” In her role as head heart cheerleader, McKenzie was this year’s Heart Ambassador for the event at the school.

For over 20 years, Irby Elementary has participated in Jump Rope for Heart, which is dedicated to raising money and awareness for healthy hearts and healthy living. This year, it took place on an unusually crisp morning in front of the school’s cafeteria with youngsters bundled up in coats and sweaters to demonstrate their rope jumping abilities.

A number of parents volunteered to help with the event, which couldn’t have taken place without them, according to Irby physical education teacher and Jump Rope for Heart coordinator Ray Crone.

This is Irby’s 22nd year participating in Jump Rope for Heart, and it has become a community event as students from Santa Fe High School and former teachers and principals from other Alachua schools showed up in support. Valdenora Fortner, principal of Irby, was joined by Santa Fe High School Principal Beth LeClear and Athletic Director Michele Faulk as well as Alachua Elementary Principal Eva Copeland. Irby’s former speech pathologist and current City of Alachua Commissioner Shirley Green Brown was in attendance as well. Alachua Police Department Chief Joel DeCoursey, Jr., along with several police officers and an officer from the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office were on hand to witness the event as was Damon Messina of the City of Alachua Recreation Department.

The span of the school’s participation has been so long that now second generation students are jumping rope, such as Trista Jefferson. Crone remembers teaching her father. And second grader Emory Bryan used his grandfather’s jump rope.

The students get excited about Jump Rope for Heart, Crone said. Students, such as Destiny, who just learned to jump rope, practice in the days leading up to the actual event. “She asked me to watch her jump in afterschool,” said Crone. “Teachers love to see progress like that since now she’s pretty good.”

By the time the well-orchestrated event was over, students had participated in a Zumba warm up, watched teachers jump, jumped with long ropes, short ropes, participated in “minute mania” and the “endurance jump.”

But the importance of the event isn’t lost on these youngsters and they understand it’s not just about jumping rope and having fun.

The goal of the event is to raise money for the American Heart Association, but it also aims to promote health awareness and live a healthy lifestyle by exercising, eating well and getting adequate sleep.

The students understand the importance of their participation, Crone said.

One youngster, Gage, asked Crone how much money does it take to save someone’s life?

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