Let’s face it, how many of you started singing the YMCA song when you read the title of this article? Almost everyone has heard of the Young Men’s Christian Organization, but few knew they hosted a National Gymnastics Championship each year, but now, ALL of Savannah knows about it and nearly half of Savannah volunteered to help out at the event, or so it seemed.
The three day event began on Wednesday with opening ceremonies in Forsyth park and volunteers from local area YMCA’s said they were blessed with no afternoon thunder showers despite rolling gray clouds and rain falling all around the area, including at Habersham YMCA where nearly three quarters of the staff volunteered on their day off to help man everything from hospitality rooms to timing and setting the literal bar higher for taller participants and lower for shorter ones. With gym mats weighing nearly 100 pounds, volunteers who helped move them around really got in a work out without even being at the gym.
Tickets were reasonable priced at $15 for adults and $10 for children, and the parking lots were packed.
While it was warm and humid outside the International Trade Center, inside the competitors were wearing jackets and even pajama bottoms in between competitions. There was rarely a down moment as athletes rotated from bars to floor to beam to vault.
By Saturday, the only local Savannah competitor in the Level 8 competition was eleven year old Lane Vacala who lost her balance and slipped in her first attempt at beam, but hopped back on and determinedly finished her routine to finish 13th, scoring higher in her floor and vault routines.
Vacala, who attends school at St. Andrews said that her nerves got to her in the competition, but her coach, Amanda Turner said she was happy with her finish.
The coaches, judges and competitors all felt the event was well run and the volunteers received rave reviews for their efforts. Local area businesses like McDonalds and Baker’s Pride donated food and drinks for the hospitality rooms. Many of the volunteers had worked 12 and even 18 hour shifts on Thursday and Friday, yet despite looking rather weary, they still managed to smile and direct people where they needed to be.
The local news reported that the event was one of the largest championships to date with competitors coming from as far away as California and New York and closer by from Florida and Dalton, Georgia.
Savannah has their own team who practice at the Islands YMCA and there were even a few males competing, though by Saturday it was just the females left on the floor. There were some glitches with some of the music overlapping for floor events and confusing gymnasts, but overall things went smoothly.
A group of gymnasts who had finished their routines earlier in the day decided to take a break from the events and go back to their hotel to swim in the pool before the rain fell, while others took in a lunch on River Street, visiting the gift shops and of course River Street Sweets!
When one woman asked one of the young girls if she had ever fallen off an apparatus, the girl replied, “Well of course, I fall off all the time,” prompting an embarrassed giggle from her mom.
“Well, what do you do? Does it make it harder to get back on?” “Oh no,” said the girl, in her shiny red and black leotard, “I just get back on and keep on going.”
From the mouths of babes comes a good example for us all to follow. For many, this was the first gymnastics event they had ever attended and the girls by far outnumbered the boys. Many young girls who were not competing, came wearing spangled jackets with their hair pulled back in a pony tail as they did somersaults down the carpeted hallway, one day hoping to compete in a major event themselves.
Whether competing or watching, the crowd encouraged all competitors with a hardy, “come on _____, you can do it, come on _____” as they called out each girl’s name. When a competitor fell or slipped, there was a rush of inhaled wind followed by a, “that’s okay, way to go, you can do it…”
No one spoke badly of anyone and even coaches and parents offered advice to one another on combating muscle strains, blisters and the inevitable wear and tear on the body. Over a quarter of the girls wore tape on their ankles and knee braces and a few were even on crutches, but there were no major injuries on Saturday other than a few bruised egos and behinds as girls missed their mark on the vault and landed on the padded mats, still looking a bit in shock, but standing up and smiling all the same.
If you are interested in gymnastics in Savannah you can visit the following sites: http://www.ymcaofcoastalga.org/ymca/competitive-team-gymnastics http://www.aagsavannah.com/ http://www.coachwayne.com/ http://www.yellowpages.com/savannah-ga/gymnastics
Getting involved in gymnastics can mean as much work for parents as for children. From early morning to late in the afternoon, parents walked with children towing luggage carts and making sure the girls were warmed up and in good spirits.
The event attracted several thousand and moved along smoothly, making the event pleasant for all who participated and hopefully, the hospitality shown by event organizers, sponsors and volunteers will encourage further events, but not before volunteers have a chance to get some well needed rest from all their hard efforts… and they didn’t even get medals!