NEWSBIT: Leaping into minds

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Leaping to mold minds

Jump-roper, judo champ tells students to stay off drugs

ON THE SPOT:

Grant Elementary School second grader Ivory Milfs, 9, gives James Thompson a look as he holds a pack of cigarettes out during his anti-drug performance Friday. Thompson told the students to believe in themselves and to steer clear of drugs.

Andi Winters

Record Searchlight



January 19, 2004 - 2:07 a.m.

He did a push-up on two fingers. He jumped rope while bouncing a basketball. He played a mean harmonica. And he gave students at Grant Elementary School a message: There are better things in life than drugs.



James B. Thompson, the Rope Master, entertained and awed the students Friday with his quick wit and his remarkable jump-roping ability.



After a short introduction by Vice Principal John Kelly, the Rope Master said a few words to the students then swooped Kelly onto his shoulders and began to jump rope to the squeals and delight of the kids. Using his unusual skills, he grabbed the attention of his audience and began to share the message he came to spread.



"I'll talk to you guys today about a game plan to help you be more successful in the future," Thompson said. "I will talk about three things on the game plan: goal setting, making your talents work for you and hanging out with the right people."



Thompson, an alternate on the 1984 Olympic Judo team and 1985 National Open Weight Judo Champ, has spent the last 26 years counseling troubled youth at a juvenile detention center in San Jose.



He understands the choices kids have today and the importance of emphasizing right decisions.



Students sat entranced at the antics of the big man who wore red, white and blue striped and starred pants as he performed his amazing feats. Thompson jumped rope while bouncing two balls, then, with the rope cracking, did several judo moves. All the while urging the students to stay on track, away from drugs and build their futures.



"I want you guys to believe in yourselves," he said. "There's gonna be times in your life when only you will believe in yourself. You've got to constantly believe that you can do it, that you can be successful, that you can be the best that you can be."



During his performance, he called kindergarten teacher Lori Duralia, coordinator of the school's assemblies, to his side, thanking her for making his visit possible. Then he helped her onto his shoulders and jumped rope. Turning her sideways, he squatted and again jumped rope. The audience of kindergarten through third-grade students clapped loudly and laughed as the teacher bobbed up and down.



Thompson, who turned 50 in June, began jumping rope in 1971 as a way to stay in shape for basketball. He got bored of plain jumping and began to experiment with the rope, eventually using his techniques to entertain.



He has appeared on many major talk shows and entertained twice at the White House. He travels throughout the United States but has recently scaled back his shows to twice a month.



Though he makes good money doing television, Thompson said he gets more pleasure out of doing school assemblies.



"(TV's) just not rewarding, its just entertainment. I want it to mean more than that," said Thompson. "So I've been able to use these props to reach the kids. I've been able to use the jump rope as a vehicle to reach them with the message: stay in school, listen to their parents, stay away from drugs."



Sporting a T-shirt proclaiming "No Hope in Dope," Thompson said he was jazzed talking to the kids about making decisions that would lead to successful and happy lives.



"I know when I was a kid there were only about three assemblies I was at that I remembered my whole life," he said, adding that he anticipated his talk Friday would be one of the three Grant School children would remember.



After jumping rope with three students hanging onto him, performing push-ups on his fingers and break dancing with a rope, the multi-talented Thompson brought his companion, Soul Brother Ricki, out of a box.



Ricki is Thompson's dummy, decked out in a tuxedo and sporting a wicked sense of humor. The two exchanged jokes and barbs to the delight of the laughing students.



As his performance came to an end, he handed out small cards with his picture and a list of his game plan to "help kids to stay on track."



After long, loud applause, the students clustered around Thompson asking for his autograph on their cards, admiration of Thompson shining in their eyes. And the truth of his words planted in their heads



For kindergartners Caden Rouillier and Julian Stotter, both 5, the message was clear.



"We're not going to do drugs," said Caden.





Reporter Andi Winters can be reached at 225-8217 or at awinters@redding.com.
Category: News