RetRollSpective – Jungle Jumpers

Hello and welcome to another RetRollSpective, where we reflect on the history of marble sports teams that have appeared in the tournaments of Jelle’s Marble Runs. This time, we’re going to leap over to the Jungle Jumpers, a team that debuted in the 2017 Marble League. Read on to find out how this team has jumped through the competition!

The official logo for the Jungle Jumpers, designed by Tim Ritz.

The Jungle Jumpers originate from Lewara, a village hidden beyond a dense rainforest, bordered by a river with a lush basin. Hop, Skip, Jump, and Leap grew up admiring the beautiful flora and fauna that lived in the rainforest and relished exploring it daily. One of their favorite pastimes was to scale the treetops and jump to the ground using a wingsuit. Their skills in BASE jumping were praised by the village of Lewara, and the village made sure to include a short segment of their talents in an Atlas Marbura featurette about the village. The segment trended on MarBook upon the release of the featurette, and days later, the BASE jumpers were contacted by agents from the Surculo, asking them to compete in an exhibition race in the city of Numerun.

The four, who adopted the “Jungle Jumpers” moniker to compete in the race, traveled outside of the village for the first time in their lives. Upon arriving in Numerun, they attended a dinner with the other competitors as part of the fundraiser for Colina Umerun. They explored the city late into the night and, as a result, nearly overslept the next morning.

“If the fans weren’t blasting ‘Roll and Shout’ outside the hotel, we would have skipped the race,” recalled Skip. “That would have been disappointing, considering how we did.”

The race allowed four members from each team to compete, with a points-based system that rewarded the marbles with points depending on what order they crossed the line in. The Jungle Jumpers won the tournament to everyone’s surprise, as this was their first time competing in professional marble sports. According to Hop, the team’s experiences in BASE jumping had prepared them well for the exhibition:

“The strategies needed to coordinate our progress down Colina Umerun are similar to the strategies we use in BASE jumping. It all comes down to speed, timing, and precision.”

In celebration of their victory, the Jungle Jumpers were permitted by Numerun officials to go BASE jumping in the modern part of the city. Later that week, they returned home to Lewara, promising fans that they would return.

The next year, the Jungle Jumpers entered the main tournament of the Surculo in the entry league, retiring from BASE jumping. They were joined by the Jawbreakers, Rojo Rollers, Quicksilvers, and Chocolatiers in the coming years, and all five of the teams rose through the ranks to the elite league. In 2015, the Jawbreakers, who considered the Jumpers a formidable rival, won the overall tournament. The Jungle Jumpers placed fourth, and when offered a spot in the 2016 Marble League, they declined in favor of one more shot at the championship.

“We always knew that we had it in us,” said Jump, the team’s captain. “We had to get there, and we did.”

Despite a rough start to the season, where the team missed the first event due to a power outage resetting their alarm clocks the night before, the Jungle Jumpers came back, winning the 2016 Surculo Championship over the Quicksilvers. Their strength in the second half of the tournament was unprecedented in Surculo history, as they won several medals in a row. Both teams were asked to participate in the 2017 Marble League Qualifiers the next year, and both teams accepted.

The Jungle Jumpers’ breakout moment in 2017 Qualifiers.

The Jungle Jumpers struggled in the first two events of Qualifiers but shone in Block Pushing, leading the event with a score of 73.3 centimeters. The Jumpers catapulted into fifth place overall, and despite falling to ninth after Funnel Spinning, had what they needed to qualify for their first Marble League.

Perhaps the Jungle Jumpers had the points they needed to qualify, but for most of the 2017 Marble League season, it did not seem like they had the training. Prior to their gold medal in Archery, the team’s highest placement in the first nine events of the season was tenth—a ranking they had only achieved twice. The only team that was as disappointing as the Jungle Jumpers was the Quicksilvers, and even then, they had finished in seventh.

They were the last team to compete in Archery, but the Jungle Jumpers—again, to everyone’s surprise—excelled. Their training in precision and accuracy helped them to stay in the center of the targets, with Hop, Leap, and Skip earning 9.5 and Jump earning 10, cleanly knocking over the bullseye. 

The Jungle Jumpers’ breakout moment in 2017 Qualifiers.

Longtime fans of the Jungle Jumpers knew that they wouldn’t stop with just one medal—and they were right. The rest of Marblearth, however, was completely surprised to see Hop advance to the Underwater Race final and make the podium.

“I wouldn’t root for them again,” a fan named Billy admitted after the closing ceremony. “But it was fun to see them come out of nowhere and get some recognition. Any fan would love to be in their roll-steps.”

The Jumpers ascend the podium once more during their debut season.

Fans from across Marblearth hoped that the Jungle Jumpers would do well in the final event, but unfortunately, this was not the case. After going out to dinner after the Underwater Race, the Jungle Jumpers overslept and missed the official transportation for the final event of the 2017 Marble League. The team finished their season in fifteenth with 68 points overall, only above the Quicksilvers in last.

“Overall, 2017 wasn’t the season we wanted to have,” Hop conceded. “Part of the reason we went out that night was to celebrate, and the other part of the reason was that we didn’t see ourselves doing much better. There was a sense that our story had already been written,” they said as the other Jumpers nodded in agreement.

“If we were the best of the Surculo, we weren’t showing it,” admitted Leap. “We really weren’t handling it well on a personal scale either.”

The team recruited their fifth reserve member, Bounce, from Greshen, a small city known for its studies in ecology and for having the freshest air in the world. The Jumpers trained there in the months leading up to the 2018 Winter Marble League; in the mornings, they would exercise in the rainforest near the city, working on their speed and endurance. In the evenings, they would go out.

Judgment came for the Jungle Jumpers during Qualifiers, where they placed seventh despite Hop’s third place in the Snow Rally. Of the four rookie teams from 2017, the Midnight Wisps were the only team to qualify for the 2018 Winter Marble League. The Jumpers attended the main tournament and sat alongside the Rojo Rollers, their fellow Surculo competitors who had not competed in the Marble League since 2016. It was then that they realized that they needed to make a change.

It did not take long for the Jungle Jumpers to realize how much they hated the higher ground of the grandstands.

“We realized as soon as the opening ceremony began that we were not satisfied where we were in the stands,” Jump said. “I didn’t think that we deserved to compete in 2018, but there was no excuse for us to feel that pitiful. We needed to do better.”

Jump got in contact with sports professionals from Numerun, who agreed that the team had potential, but needed an overhaul in training. Tarzan joined the team midway through the 2018 season and agreed to coach them starting after the closing ceremony in 2018. They quickly got to work in preparation for the 2018 Marble League Consolation Race, the first of three offseason events organized specifically for Marble League teams.

Their decision to hire Tarzan saved the Jungle Jumpers’ fate, and they began to shift from a team seen as a burnout to one that could return to the Marble League. After starting in the middle of the pack, Hop fought to the front and finished third overall in the Consolation Race. Skip similarly started in the middle of the 100 Meter Water Race, but vaulted into second place upon Whizzy’s slowdown, and took the lead from Pinky Winky in the second third of the race. In the final quarter of the race, Skip traded the lead back and forth with Sublime, crossing the finish line two-tenths of a second ahead of Sublime after one final handoff. The Amazing Maze Marble Race also delivered a close finish for the Jumpers in the semifinals, as they missed out on advancing to the finals by just two points.

Even after doing well in the offseason, the Jungle Jumpers were fully aware of what they had to prove, and it was more than just their ability to compete. “We made a conscious choice in 2018 to stop partying, and it wasn’t as easy as quitting cold turkey. It took real effort,” explained Skip. “But it was so worth it.”

The Jungle Jumpers needed to demonstrate the best of themselves in 2019’s Qualifiers, and this picture shows that and more.

The team entered the 2019 Marble League Qualifiers with Skip’s ninth-place finish in Funnel Endurance and rose to third overall with the team’s 109.5-centimeter score in Block Pushing. Unlike the previous year, where the Jumpers fell out of contention midway through Qualifiers, the team continued to finish in the top half of the standings, earning double-digits in points, and qualified for the 2019 Marble League, their second, in fifth overall.

“I had doubts about joining the team in 2018,” Bounce admitted. “Jump and the others seemed like a great team, but they weren’t there yet. No doubts were heading into 2019. We felt on top of our game.”

It was surprising, then, when Skip finished fifteenth in the first event, the Underwater Race, and last in Balancing. There was potential to get on the podium in Funnel Endurance, with Leap leading the finals twice, but a few well-timed bumps against Razzy and the others sent them spiraling down to eighth place. The team sat in fourteenth place heading into the Gravitrax Slalom, where they reached the final and finished in third, earning their first medal in two years. The Jumpers rose to eleventh overall.

The Jungle Jumpers jumped for joy onto the podium!

From then on, the Jungle Jumpers began posting better, if still inconsistent, results. Their strength in team events continued to fluctuate from sixth in the Relay Run to fourteenth in Block Pushing, where they had excelled in Qualifiers. Hop took the reins for the Summer Biathlon, an event unique to 2019, and beat Bonbon of the Chocolatiers in one of the closest photo finishes of the season, at three-thousandths of a second. At the midpoint of the season, the Jumpers rose to ninth overall.

The Jumpers’ first gold medal in two years.

They continued to battle with consistency during the latter half of the season, with lower finishes in fourteenth, fifteenth, and twelfth keeping the Jungle Jumpers from reaching the top five. That said, the team had enough strong finishes to warrant a finish in the top half of the standings, with fifth in the Dirt Race and the Elimination Race proving that their training in speed and endurance was working. Even then, the Jumpers were not in the top half of the standings heading into the fourteenth event, Surfing. They already couldn’t win the 2019 Marble League, but, true to their previous history in the tournament, they were not finished yet.

Skip was chosen collectively by the team to compete in Surfing, as their expertise in skipping across the Lewara River to and from the rainforest suited the balance needed to surf and endurance needed to finish the race. In the second heat, Skip’s surfing distance was far stronger than Wopsy’s, 33 centimeters to 23 centimeters, and their time bonus of 20.48 seconds led to a score of 53.48. Skip took the provisional lead in the round and the lead overall, earning the team’s second gold medal of the season.

The Oceanics ran a surf shop and couldn’t podium in Surfing. The Jungle Jumpers BASE jump and won Surfing. Logic.

The Jungle Jumpers finally skipped into the top half of the standings, and remained there, finishing seventh overall after dropping one spot to the O’rangers in sixth.

“We did everything that we needed to do last season, and I am so proud of how far the Jungle Jumpers have come,” Tarzan said, applauding their team’s success in the 2019 Marble League. “They proved that they deserved to be there, and when they came off their podium in Surfing, they looked happier than I have ever seen them—happier than any night out has made them.”

Leap of Faith

an addendum by Fouc and Orbitball

Two days before the 2020 Marble League Qualifiers began, in a village nestled in a river valley and hidden from above by the rainforest canopy, there was finally a screen set up in Lewara’s town square. It was daytime for the Lewarans when the Qualifiers started, as almost every villager rolled out to pack around the screen, so confident they were in the hopes of their hometown team – the Jungle Jumpers.

From above, the village was no longer hidden; you could see the screen’s fluorescent glow and a crowd of two thousand dark green marbles. “There is no doubt that our team will do better than last year, zero,” said one attendee.

The story of the Jumpers’ 2020 season started with what happened next. Team member Leap fell off of the Funnel Endurance course, a moment that could have shifted the team’s trajectory forever.

Over that season, the Lewarans would carry the same bundle of emotions as what first fell onto them that day. What started as screaming at Leap’s fall ended in stunned silence, punctured by bits of sobbing. But when media interviewed them again, the Lewarans comforted themselves by repeating the same line: a bit of bad luck would not be enough to shake the Jumpers’ fans’ unwavering faith.

(Photo Credit: Vector)

Going into the Qualifiers, the Jungle Jumpers were well prepared for the task ahead. Knowing there would be fierce competition such as the Savage Speeders and O’rangers this year, as well as several teams entering from the 2019 Showdown, the team described their strategic thinking early on.

“My great-grandmarble was an experienced Funnel Spinner many years ago,” Leap told the press in an exclusive team interview before the 2020 Qualifiers, “They taught me everything I know.”

“What, how to spin in a circle?” Hop butted in, teasing Leap. The crowd laughed as the two exchanged banter back and forth, resulting in one of the most shared Jungle Jumpers interviews online.

The Jumpers get onto the Balancing beam.

Ahead of the Qualifiers’ Funnel Endurance heat, the team tried to open up a lead in the starting Balancing run. Captain Jump seemed to dictate the formation at first, but a collision between them and Leap wiped both out halfway through. Only Hop made it to the end, netting the team a provisional 15th place out of 20.

Leap recalled, as they went up the Funnel Endurance tower into the starting gate: “Balancing wasn’t the greatest, but I told myself I had a plan. I had 20 minutes of practice time to myself and got a feel for how to spin around the funnels.”

Testing the tower on your own must not be the same as fighting for your spot among nine other athletes. Leap was pushed quickly through the orange funnels and we saw them almost pushed down immediately by the Chocolatiers’ Cocoa. Leap fended off two marbles who dropped through the first green funnel, but then their pace slowed to a crawl.

The Jungle Jumper tipped into the funnel hole and onto the railing, and then – “Leap from the Jungle Jumpers has fallen off the track!” shouted Greg Woods.

At such a prestigious event as the Marble League, you would think track defects were things of the past. After Team Momo’s injury led to the 2017 ban of fidget spinners, the Marble League was well respected for their course safety standards, which were released for public review and approved by experts.

As a testament to this, the grass below the funnel tower was designed to cushion any marble falling onto it. Despite the leap off the course, Leap had only some scratches that were tended to right away by the medic marbles.

“I wish I remembered more of it,” said Leap. “It felt like I was dizzy and losing track of where I was after that first green funnel and next thing I remember the medics were carrying me indoors. I have to think the medics did a good job,” said Leap.

Coach Tarzan and Captain Jump went off the field for other reasons. “The truth is… I ran up to the JMRC and was too busy arguing with them to see Leap get carried off,” said the Coach. “All of it was so crazy at the moment and a bit silly afterward. I was staring at the replay and just yelling to them: ‘The rail was wobbly! You can tell it was wobbling!’ “

In the end, Jelle and Mellacus of the Committee announced a standard two-point consolation would be given to the Jungle Jumpers due to the probable existence of a track defect. The team’s response at the time was cold: “In truth, I think restarting the funnel run was the fairest thing to do,” said Captain Jump after the event.

“Before Block Pushing, there were a few captains who came up to me and talked,” recalled Jump. “I appreciate them doing it, and they kept saying ‘it’ll be fine, we know the Committee made the fairest decision.’ But I still would say to them, ‘You don’t know for sure if they thought this through.’ “

Leap carried off by medic marbles.

Despite an eighth-place finish in Block Pushing, the Jumpers were third to last overall going into the final 5 Meter Sprint. The team’s fate rested on Skip, the team’s Surfing gold medalist in Marble League 2019. “I was fired up at the moment because I knew I was doing this for Leap and Lewara,” recalled the athlete. “One of the Speeders was next to me, but didn’t I beat them in Surfing? I wasn’t scared.”

Neck and neck with the competition in their heat, Skip raced past the finish line in a blur, so fast that they almost crashed out of the finish zone. At the last instant, Skip pressed down on the wall and found their footing on a peg. The other contestants were still panting when Skip turned around to see they scored a 5.242, fourth overall in the event.

Finally, the Jumpers and Lewara jumped for joy. So convinced they were that their time did come that few noticed the overall standings at first. There was a four-way tie for the last two spots, and the Jumpers were eliminated off of position countback. They could have qualified for 2020 if Skip bested the Oceanics’ Sea in the Sprint, who was to Skip’s left in the same heat and was at most two lengths quicker.

Skip catching their footing after the Sprint.

Between the 2020 Qualifiers and the 2020 Marble League Showdown, most Lewaran fans returned home with the Jumpers and the team fell from the public eye. Few public figures were vouching for the team, but one pundit was particularly prominent: Tonio, the host of the series “Power Ranking Power Hour.”

When we interviewed them in July, Tonio’s stage presence had not changed, with each sentence of theirs enunciated and booming across the room. “Jungle Jumpers fans were so robbed,” they exclaimed. “The Jungle Jumpers should host next year because everyone is pitying them.”

That would be news to the team itself, who retreated home and found a way to let out their frustration. In Lewara, the Jumpers were still given a hero’s welcome when they drove back. The village chief gave a roaring speech about how the Jumpers will be the fastest, most agile team in the Marble League.

All the villagers pitched together to throw great parties for the team, with each athlete treating themselves to numerous meals and drinks over a week. The one day with a break from all this partying was when Stynth, Editor-in-Chief of the Rollout, visited the team’s training grounds:

“My train ride into Greshen brought me from a dense city setting to the outer rim of a large, dense rainforest, with flora and fauna that Team Primary could only dream of painting. Jump, who welcomed me at the airport, brought me on a hiking trail that rolled us up to a viewpoint overlooking the entire city—and the treetops that the Jungle Jumpers leaped off of in the background. The entire team was waiting at the top for our arrival.

            “We’re working on ourselves as a team,” Hop noted. “We’re working to center our focus and trust ourselves…”

The team offered me a jumpsuit to dive off the cliff with. I respectfully declined.”

~from “Offseason Moments – ML2020 Showdown”, by Stynth

“Looking back, we really could have trained more those few weeks,” said Hop. “A lot of us just said we needed to decompress, though among us Leap didn’t go out as we all did. I asked them one night what’s going on because out of any marble they needed that positivity.””Something about that moment didn’t feel right,” said Leap. “I love our fans, but they were celebrating us like we won the whole Marble League. We didn’t, we failed to qualify. We need to deliver to make all their support worth it.”

Hop and Leap gliding atop the rainforest canopy.
(Photo credit: The Emperor)

In Lewara, Stynth jotted down a new manager for the team, a wealthy marble from the city of Koroc called Joy. The team going back to Polaria’s Andromedome was a group of seven – and they would touch down in a much larger jet than our Editor-in-Chief remembered them having.

The 2020 Showdown’s first event, the Relay Run, saw a renewed Jumpers team in full force. Placing second to the Snowballs in their qualifier heat, the Jumpers still made it to the final as the fastest non-leading wild card team. What seemed like another fourth-place finish was flipped upside down at the anchor leg, as Leap sent Jump flying forward. As Greg Woods announced, “The Jungle Jumpers, the wild card, ends up beating the top three!”

Jump leading the Showdown Relay in the anchor leg.

That was one of three podium placements the team earned that Showdown, followed by a silver in the Halfpipe and a bronze in the Sand Moguls. Jump and Leap would lose their footing around the Black Hole Funnel, sinking into last there. But Lewaran fans’ drums banged right after to the sight of Hop winning their Moguls heat.

Not only would the Jungle Jumpers contest 2021’s Marble League Qualifiers, but they did so as runners-up in the Marble League Showdown – their highest placement ever in a tournament.

The Jungle Jumpers, 2020 Showdown Runners-up.

After the podium ceremony, reporters filled up the Jungle Jumpers’ press conference in a way they have not since 2019. What they noticed, however, is that Tarzan or most of the athletes kept to themselves throughout. Instead, the conference mostly consisted of a speech from a hefty black marble, the Jumpers’ new manager.

“It is my dearest and greatest pleasure to celebrate this moment with you all… Marblearth has seen the true power the Jungle Jumpers possess!” said Manager Joy. “Today is not just a time to celebrate the Showdown podium, but also to present a team going back to their roots for a new future!”

Clicking to show a new slide on a projector screen, Joy could see the reporters scramble forward and start taking photos. On the screen was the schematic for their new plan for a world-class training facility for the Jumpers. “Lewara and my holding company agreed to a three-year investment in the new Lewara Sports Parc, starting with the Raceforest Circuit this winter and seven facilities in preparation of hosting Marble League 2022!”

Track map of the Raceforest Circuit. (Artwork Credit: Spex)

Change was very much in the air when we visited the Jumpers during the offseason. The way to Lewara used to be a narrow road treading through the dense forest but was now a six-lane highway. Foliage no longer blocked our view into the town, where we could see heavy construction afoot.

A fleet of excavators was digging into the ground as we met the team and Lewara’s leaders around the site of Raceforest Circuit. The team made news once again as the JMRC approved their hosting bid for a Marbula One Grand Prix, thereby qualifying them for Marbula One Season 2. Coach Tarzan narrated a racer reveal trailer that was viewed millions of times across Marblearth: Hop, “Sky High”, and Skip, “Super Skipper,” jumped out of a plane above the ocean to thumping electronic beats.

“We are so proud of our Jumpers for what they did and what they will do,” said Lewara’s Chief Marble to us. “The Raceforest Circuit and the new athletics stadium have also given our town thousands of well-paying jobs. The better the team performs, the quicker Lewara grows to be a great and beautiful city.”

Once again, what should have been an interview around the team felt more like publicity for Lewara’s rapid development. We were able to ask the racers, Hop and Skip, what they felt about having all these expectations on their backs.

The Super Skipper sounded over the moon: “We used to have to travel to Greshen and Koroc to live it up, and now Lewara could be just as exciting! I’m just pumped thinking about it.”

Hop, a multiple Marble League medallist, was more reserved. “Things are changing very quickly for sure, and not everything is under our control. My part is using this Marbula One season to show our team’s worth.”

The official promotional poster for the Jungle Jumpers in Marbula One, designed by Jack Ironhide.

Hop, Skip, and Tarzan touched down in Herbotamia on Manager Joy’s jumbo jet, to the sight of reporters all around them. It would be Hop the veteran who started in the team’s inaugural Marbula One race at the Minty Mania Grand Prix.

Seventeenth of twenty to run their qualifying lap, Hop felt at ease zigzagging through the course’s opening chicanes. But they were still swerving coming out of the ramp, turning what should have been a straight sprint into the marble pinballing off the track walls. They sped across the finish line and clocked 17.18 for their lap – at best an overall seventeenth against the competition. 

“Guess that was my moment of fame,” reflected Hop. “I heard Coach Tarzan apologize to me on the radio, then the stewards carried me off the track. The one time Greg Woods mentioned my name was to say I’m ‘definitely out.’ “

The post-race presser for the Jumpers was still well attended, though the press only wondered about how wrong the Grand Prix felt for Hop. Halfway through, Skip quipped: “It could just be that Hop feels too much pressure. I’ll probably do better than them next week, so they should take a lesson from me!” Hop acted as if they did not hear it.

Hop just caught on tape at Minty Mania Qualifiers.

The week after, Skip qualified for the O’raceway in thirteenth but never placed above eighth the whole race. Finishing with one point in twelfth, Skip was asked for a comment. They replied: “I was better than Hop the other day, so I was sort of right.”

Lack of endurance and lack of control: just one of those two would shut a team out of Marbula One Championship contention, but the Jungle Jumpers had a gift for both. They would barely follow racing lines on their qualifying laps and would fail to make the race track for three out of the first six Grands Prix. If they made it, they might squeeze up a few spots in the opening lap before going wide out of turns and letting racers overtake them.

“Every race they qualified in, the Jungle Jumpers were always in a position to score points, but they fell apart every time,” reported Tonio. “I was hoping that the Jungle Jumpers would be championship contenders. Now they may be worse than the Hornets.”

Failing to qualify for the Arctic Circuit Grand Prix, Skip scored a total of one point after three race weekends. It was one point better than Hop, who sat with zero.

The team’s press conference after Arctic Circuit was attended by one reporter. “Cocha from the Koroc News,” they said, “with the team not invited to the Winter Special, are there any plans for the team ahead of the Raceforest Grand Prix?

Skip was about to answer when Joy grabbed the microphone from them. “Nothing to worry about,” said the manager. “You’ll see the team very soon as they attend the grand opening of the Lewara Aquaparc, with one of Marblearth’s tallest surfing ramps.”

Skip fighting in the Aquamaring GP midfield.

Exhaust blew out of the train of trucks going in and out of the Lewara Highway. At the Raceforest Circuit, the stands still needed seats installed mere days from the qualifiers. Above the dust and the noise, we interviewed the Jungle Jumpers in a skybox suite overlooking the whole track.

“It seems like training and publicity are taking so much of our time,” responded Leap, “so of course I’m happy to spend a few days hiking with Skip and Hop again…”

Leap trailed off before jumping out of their seat and rolling next to the window, breathing heavily. “Look down the Highway,” they shouted. “The forest is on fire!”

Apart from calling emergency services, both the team and our reporters could only watch the fire in the distance and the smoke blowing closer to the circuit grounds. We agreed to continue the interview only in the evening after firefighting marbles poured water out of a plane to put out the fire.

Outside the skybox, the smoke refracted the sunset into a sickly yellow sky. The smoke hovered over all of Lewara and made the highway and the town center look like mirages in the distance. Under the circumstances, we felt obligated to ask: has this ever happened in Lewara before?

“No, never,” whispered Jump. “This is our home. None of us want to hurt our home like this.”

The forest burns, but what can be done?
(
Source photo: Wikimedia)

The smoke did clear up a week later when fans across Marblearth drove down Lewara Highway to attend the Raceforest qualifiers. Coach Tarzan and Manager Joy were free to roll down the track and talk up the way shards of the rainforest canopy still drooped over the tracks. Reporters marveled at the sight, convinced the track design was beautiful and integrated with the environment.

To finance the circuit, most seats were sold to visitors with just one set of stands for the home fans. Squeezed in but not silenced, the Lewaran fans’ drums beat as loudly as usual when Skip came out first on the track.

The drums stopped only a few laps after because it was obvious Skip couldn’t keep to any racing line in their 30-second-plus lap and performed poorly. Their lap time of 30.588 seconds placed them in nineteenth – again failing to qualify for the main race.

A third of the Jumpers fan stands stayed empty for the main race. The fans who showed up were as loud as ever, their drums now banging to the beat of Red Eye and Speedy’s overtakes. After the race, it was these fans Skip rolled next to chat with. But when reporters asked them about their performance on their course, they simply yelled: “Shut up!”

Skip racing past Raceforest’s home team fan section.

Manager Joy gifted some more tickets so Lewarans can attend the Momotorway GP a week after. The cheers and drumming broke out early in Om, as this time Hop was able to make it to the Q2 race-off and start in eighth. With the starting grid descending into chaos through the Momotorway’s initial chicanes, Hop was squeezing past others even with a speed disadvantage.

Suddenly, a great belt exit and a misfire from Mellow Yellow’s Yellow let Hop overtake four marbles at once. Greg Woods’s voice goes one pitch higher: “Hop comes out of nowhere! And believe it or not, the Jungle Jumpers are in the lead!”

A train of marbles grew behind Hop as Hazy, Clutter, Mallard, and others wanted to push the Jumper aside. For one lap in Lap 3, Hop was weaving back and forth and defending the lead at all costs. But heartbreak took only two laps to set in, with Hop getting pushed around the second they ceded the lead back to Yellow. Hop collapsed to eleventh by Lap 5 and would end in fourteenth.

According to a Jumpers fan that day who went by Angus: “I’m at every race because there was one small string of hope I had that we would get a good finish. I was extremely pumped after Hop took the lead but around Lap 5 or 6, I was too upset… that tease made me roll out of the stands.”

Hop fending off challengers for one glorious sector.

“I couldn’t talk to Skip after I let us down like that,” recalled Hop. “I had a quick call with Leap. Then, I went to Tarzan one-on-one and just told them, ‘you need to bring everyone down here with that manager too. We can’t go on like this.’ “

Ahead of the Palette Park Grand Prix, the whole team gathered into a hotel suite in Van Gotterdam and stayed the whole night there. They were not “getting back to partying,” as one outlet speculated. Instead, they were questioning their plan to expand Lewara into a Marble League host city, the source of all their discontent.

After Marbula One Season 2 concluded, we were able to interview Manager Joy one-on-one for the first time and ask them hard questions on their decisions. What we heard was not at all what we expected.

“The whole team was venting to me that night, and I understand,” said Joy. “But here’s the whole story. The first time I met them, I heard from Tarzan, Jump, and Leap that they want to be spoken in the same breath as the Speeders and O’rangers. Ten months later, they said they feel Lewara has changed too much and they were overexerted.

“They get to tell their story, so now I get to tell mine. I grew up in a village just like theirs but in the mountains to their west. One day, the trucks started coming and we found out that they would start mining next to our village and we would all get good jobs. That’s when I made my first fortune, by starting from the bottom to managing the mine.

“But you know what? Twenty years later I would drive back home and the lakes and forests I played in as a kid was gone. My strip mine ripped all of it out of the ground. I may be rich now, but that giant hole in the mountain is my real legacy. And I’m hurt thinking about it too.

“I said all this to them in Van Gotterdam. I said: I did my best to keep building with a low carbon footprint. But do you know how massive the Speeders’ facilities are, or how many marbles the O’rangers’ arenas can hold? If your team wants to be in the big leagues, Lewara will have to change forever. I just help with the business side. You, as a team, need to decide what’s worth more.”

Hop in P7 at Misty Mountain, with a train of racers behind them.

Would the Jungle Jumpers still bid to host the 2022 Marble League? With such a decision weighing on their minds, it may be surprising that the Jumpers racers performed better than expected in the next two Grands Prix. Skip borrowed Hop’s strategy and climbed to as high as fifth at the start of Palette Park, though they would still finish out of points in 14th. Hop caught back to the midfield after the red flag restart at Misty Mountain, finishing in seventh and climbing up seven spots from the qualifiers.

“One point, five points, those didn’t matter compared to the choice we faced,” said Hop. “I think that made us overthink the races less and just do what we could do.”

While Tarzan, Hop, and Skip wrapped up their Marbula One season, the rest of the team knew they could not decide alone. Manager Joy agreed to put a pause on construction while the team sought advice from friends and family.

Some were in favor of the bid, like hardcore fan Angus: “The Raceforest venue was something I have dreamed to see. I would love to see a whole tournament taking place in this venue!” Some were opposed, like former Quicksilvers captain Argent: “I told the Jumpers they were forced into a position I knew they didn’t want. Marble League performances come and go, but staying true to yourselves is forever.”

Occasionally, the team would turn on the television and hear what the outside world is speculating. One night they flipped on Tonio’s program after a guest yelled about how the Jumpers should have been the Marble League 2021 hosts. Tonio played the straight marble: “As much as I want them to host, I don’t think the Jungle Jumpers should host until they qualify for a Marble League…”

The night Leap, Jump and Reserve Bounce heard that Skip failed to qualify in the Savage Speedway, there were open arguments over the phone. From one side of the ocean to another, the team traded barbs of “None of our plan was worth it!” or “The fans don’t think that way!”

That was when they also heard back from those whose advice they sought the most.

The sun sets over the Raceforest.

“We were late getting back to Leap and the Jumpers, but it wasn’t a problem!” Recalled the Rojo Rollers’ Rojo Uno. “They said they wanted to see Numerun, so of course they were welcome.”

When the Jumpers made their first trip to Numerun, it was the Rojo Rollers who welcomed them and showed them the city’s sights. “They were really into visiting all these stadiums around town and then the clubs,” said Rojo Dos. “They said they wanted fun and adventure, so we tried our best.”

The Jumpers’ were not visiting this time as tourists, and Rojo Uno and Rojo Dos welcomed unexpected guests along with Leap and Jump: Choc and Bonbon of the Chocolatiers. The day was spent with the two Jumper athletes and their friends rolling down Numerun’s wide boulevards, Leap and Jump full of questions.

To the Rojo Rollers, the Jumpers asked about growing up in the city and how it felt to successfully host the Surculo. “What I said to them was… even if we enjoy life here, there are plenty of marbles lost in the city who don’t,” said Rojo Uno. “What we love about the big city is the variety of marbles here, and what we love about the Surculo is meeting friends from across Marblearth. It’s that simple.”

To the Chocolatiers, the Jumpers asked about their confectionary business and how to manage growth. “Well, I told them we manage growth by not growing very much!” said Choc, the team captain. “We found the right size for ourselves, where we work just enough to enjoy the business. Once you take the time to think about the right goals to aim for, it’s a lot clearer how you get there.”

Six athletes across three teams: they rolled out of the city center and went up the Colina Umerun, an ancient mound built for marble racing. It was a smoggy day in Numerun, so visibility was poor even at the hill’s peak. The Rojo Rollers and the Jungle Jumpers felt the humid air, listened to the din of traffic, and looked at the city’s towers and buildings, rising from asphalt then fading into the smog.

Choc laughed and said: “This view wasn’t worth the hike, isn’t it?” The next thing they knew, Leap leaned right up against them and was crying.

“It was at that moment we all knew,” said Leap. “We weren’t ready to be hosts.”

A view of Numerun that Choc said wasn’t worth it, depicted by Fouc.

At the Midnight Bay Circuit in Helarve, Hop’s respectable P7 on the starting grid ended with a 13th finish, barely out of points. The team would end the season in last place, earning 9 points out of 12 Grands Prix. The Jungle Jumpers scored fewer points than the Hornets on a per-race basis, so Tonio’s fear did come true.

What cheered up Hop, Skip, and Tarzan was something far from Marbula One. They heard from Leap and Jump about their visit to Numerun, and the way forward became obvious to them too.

“Marbula One is not where we need to be at this moment,” said Hop at a final press conference. “What we need is some time to ourselves and to return home. It was the rainforest that trained us to be athletes, so it will be the rainforest that helps us prepare for Marble League 2021.”

The Jungle Jumpers, last but not least.

The Lewaran Highway is here to stay, but the Jungle Jumpers’ expansion plans were considerably scaled back. The Raceforest Circuit is now a free public track for all Lewarans, while all facilities except the Aquaparc and a new Funnel Tower were scrapped.

“This is a decision we all agreed to,” said Captain Jump. “Hosting and growing our brand would mean giving up our village, and for what – a month of strangers trampling around? Hosting is not out of the question, but for now, we use the facilities we have to train the next generation.”

On most days, the Jumpers indeed retreat into the rainforest to practice their agility. “I realize I’ve been working them too hard recently,” Tarzan admitted when asked about the training routine, “But they’re up for it. They’ve taken every single thing I’ve thrown at them in stride, and I couldn’t be prouder.”

During our last visit to the town of Lewara, the Jumpers were preparing a reunion spanning athletes across the world, planning a group skydiving event, swimming in Lewara River, and having a traditional feast. Jump was also returning from the 2021 Marble League Practice Race, placing 12th out of 28 there. On the same flight with them from Felynia back to Lewara were Rojo Uno, Bonbon, and Candy – all Surculo veterans.

That night, fireworks went off in the air while food and drinks were plentiful at the feast. The hustle-bustle paused for a second as the drums banged and the whole Jumpers team took the stage.

“We’re so honored to have all of our friends and supporters tonight,” said Coach Tarzan, first to the mic. “Our team has tried a lot this year and faced our fears, but what we learned is that we don’t succeed just on our own. I hope this week you can explore Lewara with us, learn from each other, and work to qualify this year.”

Out of nowhere, another Jumper snatched the microphone away. “I’m sorry if I’m not the most articulate right now,” said Leap, now front and center. “But I am so excited to see you all here because if you loved tonight you better come back! For the bigger party after we sweep through this year’s Marble League! … “

The Jumpers and the Rollers embraced at their Lewara party.
(Photo Credit: The Emperor)

In RetRollSpective, the Jungle Jumpers are the comeback kids of the Marble League. Their career has not been a simple one as they needed to bounce back after season after season of adversity. Overall, though, they are a team on the rise: they commanded respect from Marblearth after 2019, and they decided to concentrate on what they need to succeed in 2021.

“When the Jungle Jumpers finished second in the 2020 Marble Showdown, that showed that this team is too talented to toil around there!” declared Tonio recently on their show. “Crazily enough, I think their strongest event is Funnel Endurance… I do believe that the Jungle Jumpers will be strong in Funnel Endurance going forward.”

“The Jumpers were by our side when we qualified in 2017 and 2019. Then we were by their side when we both stepped on the Showdown podium,” said Bonbon of the Chocolatiers. “You don’t mess with a team that takes leaps of faith like them. Our Marble League rematch in 2021 will be legendary!”

A surprise guest at the Jumpers’ Lewara party offers parting thoughts. “It’s been four years since we first cheered for them and were inspired by them. That’s still true, you know. Our team crossed the ocean to introduce ourselves,” said Mallard, the Green Ducks captain. 

Best of luck to the Jungle Jumpers in the future, keep on rolling!

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