The United States has had some outstanding gymnastics teams in the past two Summer Olympics. If the state of U.S. gymnastics is similar to what it is at the Andover YMCA, we could be seeing more great gymnasts wearing red, white and blue in summers to come.
Coached by Shannon Mallinson of the Andover YMCA, a group of six area girls recently went to the AAU Junior Olympics this summer in Houston and brought home their share of medals. The sextet combined for 27 medals, including six gold. Before the meet, Mallinson did not expect this kind of success.
"They all worked really hard and shined at their final meet of the 2011-12 season," she said. "I was proud to see them walk away with so many medals, especially being the only team at the competition from Kansas."
Each girl competed in four events at a specific skill level. Their combined scores from each event resulted in their all around score.
"We have girls who are 5 when they start competing," Mallinson said. "They do basic skills like forward rolls and cartwheels in their routine, and they learn a short routine on each apparatus."
Levels 2-6 are compulsory, with each girl performing specific routines at each event. At Levels 7 and 8, (called "optional") the girls make up their own routines.
"It's just more personality they get to put into their routines," Mallinson said of the optional levels. "It's all about their expressions; they get to pick their own music for their routine."
Of the six girls, only Maddy Sanders brought home gold in All Around with a score of 35.725. Competing at the Intermediate Optional Level, she placed first in both Bars (8.850) and Vault (8.700), second in Beam (9.225) and fourth in Floor (8.950).
Finishing second in All Around at Level 5 with a score of 35.475 was Tasha Drinnen. She was first in Bars (9.100), and second in Floor (9.000), Vault (9.000) and Beam (8.375).
Level 7 competitor Madi Taylor, of Wichita, placed third All Around (34.825). She won the Beam with an 8.800, was second in Floor (9.225), third in Vault (9.100) and fifth in Bars (7.700).
Allie Mitchell (Intermediate Optional) was fourth All Around (34.025). She won the Vault (8.825), placed second in Floor (9.200) and was fourth in Bars (8.200) and Beam (7.800).
Hannah Helferich competed at Level 8 and also placed fourth in All Around (34.075). She finished third in Vault (8.65) and Bars (8.300), fourth in Floor (9.075) and fifth in Beam (8.050).
The All Stars' youngest competitor was Jody Lyne, of Wellington, who was fifth All Around at Level 2 with a score of 36.125. She placed third in Bars (9.125), fourth in Vault (9.150), and fifth in Beam (9.350), fifth in Floor (8.500).
Mallinson said the girls are usually very talkative during practice. Of the four who were
Page 2 of 3 - at practice when I asked about their Olympic experiences, most of them were suddenly rather shy.
Drinnen, 12, who attends Christa McAuliffe Academy in Wichita, enjoyed her
Junior Olympics because "It was big and there were a lot of people there." Just a two-year competitor, Tasha says her favorite event is floor "because I like tumbling a lot."
Sanders, who is also 12, lives in Leon. It, too, was her first Junior Olympics, although she has been to four nationals. The Augusta Middle School student said she likes the Junior Olympics better, but she doesn't know why. Her favorite event is the bars because, naturally, "I'm the best at it."
Ten-year-old Mitchell attends Ewalt Elementary School in Augusta. She, too, liked her first Junior Olympics but also does not know why. Since she likes to run around, the floor is her favorite event.
The oldest member of the group, Helferich, has been to four nationals and now two Junior Olympics. The 17-year-old senior at El Dorado High School competes at Level 8.
"You get to pick a routine but have specific skills or elements you need to have in your routine," she said.
Hannah said it wasn't an easy division as there were girls who usually train at a higher level who bumped down to her level to compete.
After competing in gymnastics at Wichita South High School, Mallinson attended Wichita State University but did not compete. She has been coaching gymnastics for the past 15 years.
"I enjoyed the coaching aspect of it," she said. "Once I got into it, I decided that was the route I wanted to go."
Hannah Helferich and Maddy Sanders were students of Mallinson's at the El Dorado YMCA. The girls followed their coach to the Andover Y when it opened three years ago.
"The rest of the girls just kind of trickled in," Mallinson said. "I've had most of them for two to three years. They just came to me, and we've worked them from the lower levels all the way up to where they're at now."
The All Stars compete at private gyms and Y's across the Missouri Valley region. After competing at some AAU national events in the past, the girls decided to change things up and go to the Junior Nationals to see some different competitors.
"I think next year we're going to look at going to the age group nationals because we had gone to that previously," she said. "It's a little bigger event held in Florida."
The Junior Olympics offered something the girls weren't used to seeing: older competitors, including one who was 58 years old.
"That was the first competition they had gone to where they had an adult league that we could see some older women competing," Mallinson said. "I think that was inspiring for the girls to know that if they truly love it, they could stay in it forever."
Page 3 of 3 - Technically this is the off-season for the girls but they are all working hard to move advance to the next level.
Madi Taylor has left the gymnastics squad to concentrate on the trampoline. The other five girls will compete in 14 events next season, which begins Nov. 11 with the Fall Fun Invite at the McPherson YMCA. They will compete March 9-10, 2013, in the All-Star Meet at the Andover YMCA, before wrapping things up June 1, 2013, at the Age Group Nationals in Orlando. Fla.