‘I want to do that’: Chicago kids try to make leap to Jesse White Tumblers as airborne auditions return

About 120 children showed up to try out for the famed Chicago tumbling team Saturday morning, with dozens making the cut.

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Jermaine Hardaway, 7, who was accepted into the Jesse White Tumblers, performs a cartwheel while coach Anthony Cabin watches at Tuley Park, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

Jermaine Hardaway, 7, who was accepted into the Jesse White Tumblers, performs a cartwheel while coach Anthony Cabin watches at Tuley Park, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Over the holidays, Khaya Mjumbe broke his tailbone trying to learn how to do a back tuck from YouTube videos.

Saturday morning, he was one of about 120 kids trying out for the Jesse White Tumblers at Tuley Park on the South Side.

Mjumbe, 14, who was among dozens accepted to the team, said he’s no stranger to flips, having earned a black belt in tae kwondo and spent time practicing on turf fields and at home.

Between the group’s most recent appearance on “Good Morning America” and the scholarship opportunities, he said he was hooked.

“I saw the stunt they did on ‘Good Morning America’ and was, like, ‘I want to do that,’ ” Mjumbe said. “The whole performance really stood out to me.”

Khaya Mjumbe, 14, who does martial arts, demonstrates a kick after he was accepted into the Jesse White Tumblers at Tuley Park, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

Khaya Mjumbe, 14, who does martial arts, demonstrates a kick after he was accepted into the Jesse White Tumblers at Tuley Park, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The program, which has brought in nearly 20,000 children since it was founded by recently retired Secretary of State Jesse White in 1959, allows children as young as 6 to try to make the team.

Saturday was one of the first in-person recruitment events the group has done — performances aside — since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Daijuan Solomon brought his 14-year-old daughter Jauccaria to try out. He said being a tumbler had once been a dream of his, but his multi-sport athlete daughter had a better chance.

“I always wanted to be a part of it, but I couldn’t flip,” Solomon said. “She got the athletic gene.”

He said he planned to “make a big spectacle about it” when the two got home because of how proud he was.

Jauccaria Solomon, 14, tries out for the Jesse White Tumblers team at Tuley Park, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

Jauccaria Solomon, 14, tries out for the Jesse White Tumblers team at Tuley Park, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Several kids tumbling at Tuley Saturday had lengthy athletic backgrounds despite their young ages.

Nicole Hampton, a lifelong South Sider, brought her son Kaleb Miller to try out because he’d been a part of a local tumbling team — in addition to basketball, soccer and swimming teams — and wanted to move up.

“It’s a lot of running around as a parent, but it’s worth it,” Hampton said.

Her son said he was confident and excited going into the tryout, even doing a dance — one he said he made up — while Hampton signed papers.

“I just was, like: I’m gonna get this over with, and I’m gonna make it,” Miller said.

Hampton said that, if he hadn’t made it, he probably would have been back in September, when another round of tryouts are expected, though details have yet to be announced.

Abby Agbabiaka, a Morgan Park resident, said she brought her two sons on a whim after her friend told her about the tryouts. Her 7-year-old son Jermaine Hardaway was accepted onto the team.

“It’s a way for them to burn energy without destroying my house,” Agbabiaka said. “It’s very exciting for him to be part of something that’s so Chicago.”

Coach Anthony Cabin teaches Jermaine Hardaway, 7, how to do a handstand during tryouts for the Jesse White Tumblers team at Tuley Park, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

Coach Anthony Cabin teaches Jermaine Hardaway, 7, how to do a handstand during tryouts for the Jesse White Tumblers team at Tuley Park, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

White attended the tryouts, speaking with parents and kids beforehand and staying to congratulate those who joined.

He said he never could have imagined tryouts still happening for the group more than six decades after he founded it.

“No, I wouldn’t have thought that,” White said. “I’m grateful for what’s happened to me in my life. When you get it, you’ve gotta give it back.”

Jesse White, former secretary of state and founder of the Jesse White Tumblers, speaks to parents and kids who are trying out for the team at Tuley Park in the Chatham neighborhood, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Jesse White, former secretary of state and founder of the Jesse White Tumblers, speaks to parents and kids who are trying out for the team at Tuley Park in the Chatham neighborhood, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Peyton Robinson, 10, who was accepted into the Jesse White Tumblers, does a backbend for the camera after her tryout for the Jesse White Tumblers team at Tuley Park in the Chatham neighborhood, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Peyton Robinson, 10, who was accepted into the Jesse White Tumblers, does a backbend for the camera after her tryout for the Jesse White Tumblers team at Tuley Park in the Chatham neighborhood, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Kareem Gibbs, 9, does a cartwheel while coach Anthony Cabin watches during tryouts for the Jesse White Tumblers team at Tuley Park in the Chatham neighborhood, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Kareem Gibbs, 9, does a cartwheel while coach Anthony Cabin watches during tryouts for the Jesse White Tumblers team at Tuley Park in the Chatham neighborhood, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Christian Prayer, 6, tries out for the Jesse White Tumblers team at Tuley Park in the Chatham neighborhood, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Christian Prayer, 6, tries out for the Jesse White Tumblers team at Tuley Park in the Chatham neighborhood, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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