By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian
Aerial-Port Gymnastics will host its first intra-squad meet today, with one session starting at 1 p.m. and another at 4 p.m.
Friends, family and the Marion County community are invited to watch them show off their skills, owner Gary Rafaloski said.
“These kids are talented,” Rafaloski said. “They will be able to show off their talents — their strength, their flexibility, their determination.”
For many of the gymnasts, this meet will be the first time friends and family are able to see them perform, Mark Travelstead, president of the Mountain Magic Parent Organization said.
“Some of our gymnasts have been on the team for seven or eight years or longer, and none of their friends or extended family have ever watched them because all of our meets are over an hour away,” Travelstead said.
Aerial-Port Gymnastics provides competition training for gymnasts ages 6 to 18, and children as young as 2 years old get involved with beginning tumbling and a mom and tots class.
The competitive gymnasts typically compete within their region, which includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
“Our younger gymnasts average seven meets a season, while the older kids average nine to 10,” Rafaloski said.
Competition season begins in December, so this friendly, inter-squad meet will help prepare them to start competing, he said.
“Our gymnasts are competing their routines at home, in a friendly environment,” Rafaloski said. “It gives them a chance to prepare themselves to be in front of the public, and to compete in the regulation meets in the upcoming meet season.”
Gymnastics competition in the USA Gymnastics system is divided by level, with one being the easiest and 10 the most difficult, and an even more difficult “elite” level above level 10.
“We’ll be having gymnasts represent our team up through level nine this season,” Rafaloski said.
Today’s competition will be divided into two parts. The first part at 1 p.m. will have Level 3, 4 and 5 gymnasts showing off their “compulsory” levels. With compulsory levels, all gymnasts are required to compete at their level doing the same routine.
At 4 p.m., students representing levels 6, 7, 8 and 9 will show off their “optional” routines. With optional routines, each gymnast has her own choreography and music for her floor routine.
“We’ll have two judges come in and evaluate the kids on their routines and give comments to the kids on what they saw and what they need to improve on to prepare for the upcoming competition,” Rafaloski said.
Founded in 1977, Aerial-Port Gymnastics has a lot of experience training girls and young women to compete.
“We’re in our 36th season, and we’ve had multiple state championship teams, and individual champions, regional champions, state champions and even Olympic champions with Mary Lou Retton,” Rafaloski said.
At today’s meet, gymnasts will range in age from age 7 to 16. All of the kids train hard.
“Our kids train from two to five days a week, with anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours in a day,” Rafaloski said.
While competition season runs from December to May each year, the gymnasts train year-round, learning new routines in the off-season.
“It’s a very physically and mentally demanding sport,” Rafaloski said. “People who come to the intra-squad meet can enjoy watching the kids participate and compete in the four Olympic events: floor exercise, balance beam, uneven bars and vault.
“I think it will be a great opportunity for people in the area to see what we’re doing and the opportunities we provide for young children in the area in the sport of gymnastics. We’ve had gymnasts who have gotten good enough to reach the higher levels and get scholarships to college.
“A lot of these kids are very young and just getting started, but they have a future in the sport of gymnastics.”
The intra-squad meet will start today at 1 p.m. for levels 3, 4 and 5, with a second session at 4 p.m. for levels 6, 7, 8 and 9. Aerial-Port Gymnastics is at 1123 Minor Ave., in Fairmont.
Email Colleen S. Good at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.