Alternative Sports Appeal to Many Kids

Each fall, many kids start the school year dejected about being rejected for the too-few spots on school sports teams. And that doesn't include the many who don't try out because they've been told they're too short for basketball or not big or broad enough for football or haven't been playing select volleyball since they were 5.

But an increasing number are discovering sports that offer fun, friendship and competition without discriminating by height or body type or age. In fact, kids in these sports might have a better chance to distinguish themselves and compete on a national level because these fields aren't as crowded.

Here's a look at some kid athletes and the sports they love.

JUMP ROPE

Each year, USA Jump Rope, which is based in Huntsville, Texas, hosts three or four workshops and one summer camp in Texas, says Janet Kelly, who founded the jump rope team at St. John's Episcopal School in Dallas 12 years ago. Under her coaching, the team has been competing for the last nine years, with jumpers qualifying for the national tournament annually.

The sport has competitive categories for kids younger than 8 through the over-60s set. It not only offers a good cardiovascular workout with lots of upper-body strength training, it's great cross-training for soccer, basketball, track, football, tennis and other sports, Kelly says. Plus it's inexpensive and portable.

"Jump rope appeals to all types," Kelly says. "We have kids on the team who are naturally athletic and kids that are successful because they work really hard."

And if you get to go to nationals, the Bordelon brothers on St. John's Red Hot Peppers team say you can have a fun time seeing the sights.

When Blake Bordelon, now 11, traveled to the nationals, where he placed second three years ago and fourth two years ago, his family went with him to Disney World in Florida for his first two national tournaments and Galveston, Texas, for his third national tournament.

"Blake is awesome," his brother Grant, 8, says.

As for Grant, who competed in nationals at Galveston this year, he is proud of being one of the top fundraisers at St. John's Episcopal School for the American Heart Association's Jump Rope for Heart program. And little brother Jayce, 6, is just getting started.

FENCING

Jonathan Li of Plano, Texas, and Marshall Honaker of Dallas turned 13 on the same day.

Jonathan is 4 feet 7 inches tall; Marshall is 6 feet 2 inches. And it doesn't make a bit of difference in fencing, these good friends agree. After all, the foil is the same length no matter the height of the person wielding it.

"I didn't feel I would fit in a lot of sports because I'm kind of small for my age," Jonathan says after practice. "This is fun."Marshall, because of his height, was often urged to turn to basketball. But once he tried fencing, he never looked back. Fencing, he says, has taught him to act swiftly and decisively.

"It's like chess at 300 miles per hour," Marshall says.

Fencing offers a good cardio workout and coordination, agility and strength training for every age and every build, says Waldek Czaja, who coaches a Dallas Fencers Club program for recreational and competitive players.

He runs his classes in the gym at Oak Hill Academy, a school for kids with learning differences. And he welcomes their students, too.

"It's not how big you are or even how talented," he says. "It's the size of your heart."

Erica Zhao, 14, of Plano credits fencing with learning to assert herself. "It makes me less shy because you have to be aggressive to play. And that's helped me make friends," she says.

CRICKET

Thirteen-year-old Jaafer Shahabuddin of Irving, Texas, loves cricket.

It's a love he not only shares with his father, but because of the multigenerational nature of cricket teams, he has been able to play it with his father.

"I am the youngest player on a team where some of the guys are 40 and 50," says Jaafer, who gets a particular kick out of the white uniforms and the good manners practiced in what he calls a "gentleman's game." Despite his age, the inclusive rules of cricket have always allowed him a chance to bowl, as pitching is called in cricket, as well as to hit and to field.

Along with the North Texas Cricket Association, he nevertheless would like to have enough kids to field a youth team. Which means this would be a welcoming sport for any kid looking to try something new.

While some cricket players are taller than 6 feet, one of Jaafer's favorite bowlers is 5 feet 6 inches. What matters is eye and hand coordination as well as speed and stamina, he says.

Nineteen-year-old Kartik Vittala was born and raised in Plano and grew up playing every sport offered there, from T-ball to baseball and basketball and soccer. But he settled on cricket at 15 because he felt it offered him the best possibility of playing at a higher level.

Described as "the most accomplished player among the DFW youths" by North Texas Cricket Association president Anwer Shahabuddin (Jaafer's father), Vittala now plays at Baylor University and comes home on the weekends for more matches.

As far as he's concerned, the longer a game lasts, the better.

"I love it on a Sunday," Vittala says. "My mind is gone from everything. Even if I have school, I'm carefree for those seven hours."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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