The Firecrackers jump rope team has garnered a reputation during the last 20 years as one of the most exciting performance shows in the country.

With appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman, professional and college basketball halftime shows, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, a presidential inauguration parade and more than 28 million views on YouTube, the Firecrackers—composed of fourth-through eighth-grade students in the Kings Local School District—have cemented that legacy as one of the best entertainment acts in the country.

But the Firecrackers latest claim to fame may be that it is producing some of the most sought-after coaching talent in the area—at least by one school in Mason.

The Mars Hill Academy Highlander Heat performance jump rope team hired two former Firecrackers four years ago to help coach their team. Nicole Parish and Rachel Lehn started working with the Mars Hill Academy Highlander Heat performance jump rope teams as freshman at Kings High School.

Parish says the idea of coaching a jump rope team after “retiring” as a Firecrackers member following her eighth-grade year had a certain appeal. When she was asked to help coach the Highlander Heat team, Parish says it sounded like fun.

But Parish says she quickly realized she would need help with the lessons and choreography of the performances. “I asked Rachel to do it after that because I needed two people,” says Parish.

Hiring the two former Firecrackers members as coaches just made sense, says Highlander Heat head coach Anna Dowdy. “The Firecrackers are such a great team and they go to a lot of college games and NBA events,” says Dowdy. “And they are fantastic to watch.”

The Firecrackers, along with the Mason Comet Skippers, were the inspiration for Mars Hill Academy to create a performance jump rope team when the school was looking to create an athletic program for young students in 2009, Dowdy says.

“The Firecrackers have been a great inspiration for us,” Dowdy says. “That’s how we decided to become a performance team, largely because of their success.”

Part of that success is now being transferred to the Highlander Heat team through the experience of the two former Firecrackers, Parish and Lehn, both now 18 years old, Dowdy says. “It’s been their efforts that have taken us to where we are at.” 

Make no mistake, though, the Highlander Heat jump rope team will probably never reach the level of success of the Firecrackers. It’s all about the amount of time each team devotes to its performances, as the Firecrackers spend two hours practicing five-to-six days a week.

“Mars Hill definitely practices less,” says Lehn. “And they do probably less than half of the number of shows that the Firecrackers did, but other than that they still have the same work ethic and the same drive. I think it’s just the number of hours that they practice is the only difference.”

That’s because when Mars Hill Academy started its jump rope team officials wanted an extracurricular activity for its young students, but not one that detracted from its academic mission, Dowdy says. “We wanted it to be an opportunity for our students, but not something that they needed to practice every day of the week.” 

The Highlander Heat is divided into three teams, Dowdy says. The two younger jump rope teams, the developmental team and the junior varsity team, practice twice a month and are for first-through-eighth- grade students, Dowdy says, while the performance team practices two-to-three times a week and is for fourth-through-eighth graders.

“It’s not a huge commitment,” Dowdy says. “It’s one that can be handled along with their academic course load.”

That commitment, although not huge, is starting to pay dividends for the types of events at which the Highlander Heat now performs. Starting with mostly high school basketball halftime shows, the team has now performed at local women’s college basketball games and this year performed at men’s college basketball games.

“We try not to stray too far from home base,” Dowdy says. “We rely a lot on our parents to carpool the girls to games and we want to have a good time, but not a lot of stress. But we’re always looking for new places to perform.”

One of those new places the Highlander Heat performed this year was halftime at the NBA’s Indianapolis Pacers game. 

“It was pretty exciting,” Dowdy says. “It was very intense from my perspective to be in front of that many fans. The girls were incredibly nervous. It was by far the biggest crowd they’d ever been in front of, but they did a great job and I was super proud of them.”

Dowdy’s daughter, Micah, 11, says she enjoyed performing in front of the 17,000 people during halftime at the Indianapolis Pacers game. “It really was kind of nerve-racking more than exciting,” Micah says. “It was scary, but fun because I could tell that they enjoyed it.”

The former Firecrackers have also enjoyed their time coaching the Highlander Heat team.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” says Lehn. “One of my favorite things is actually having a relationship with some of the girls. I have two brothers and I don’t have any sisters so being around them it’s definitely different.”

Parish agrees that building a relationship with the team members has been special. “It’s like they’re my little sisters,” says Parish. “I love them so much. We have a lot of fun together and I think they’ve grown a lot.”

Parish and Lehn have also grown since they started coaching four years ago. Both recently graduated from Kings High School and are now headed to college. Parish plans to major in psychology at The Ohio State University and Lehn plans to major in pre-pharmacy at the University of Cincinnati.

Before they skip away from the team for good, however, Parish and Lehn, plan to help choreograph the new routines for next year’s Highlander Heat team.

After that it’s up to Dowdy and a new coach that’s been hired to get the team ready for next year’s performances.

As for that new coach—she’s also a former Firecrackers team member, of course.