Gymnasts becoming force to reckon with

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Steamboat Springs is a perfect place for gymnastics -- as Front Range competitors are starting to learn.

"Even judges are coming up and talking about their surprise in the success of the club, so that's been a nice compliment," said coach Deirdre Bernard of the Steamboat Gymnastics Center.

The level of gymnastics being performed at the center is increasing in difficulty. Since the Eagle State competition in Evergreen over the summer, the club has continued to perform well at large meets throughout the state.

At the state meet in June, Genna Bradley won the all-around title in the Optional A, 11 to 12 age division with a 36. 825. Rochelle Johnson, a relative newcomer from Craig, took first in the Optional A 13-and-older division with a 34.8. Jamie Winter also came in first in the all-around in the Level 5 10 to 11 age division with a 36.075.

Winter has since moved from Level 5 to Level 7, otherwise known as an optional level. That will allow Bernard to field an optional team of Bradley, Johnson and Winter during the upcoming competitive season in January.

"I am extremely excited," Bernard said.

The optional level is the highest level of any gymnast at the Steamboat Gymnastics Center and one of the highest levels in Colorado.

In addition to Winter, Bradley and Johnson, a few other young competitive gymnasts have enjoyed recent success, as well.

Katie Birch took first in the Level 5 all-around at an Oct. 4 Aspen meet with a 35.90, scoring a 9.4 on the balance beam as well.

Lauren Ladley and Taylor Loomis recorded high marks, as well.

Still, Bernard said what the girls are accomplishing has been a pleasure for her to watch.

Ladley, in just her second meet ever, took fifth in the all-around at the highly competitive Gymnastika meet in Wheat Ridge on Oct. 18, Bernard said.

But competitive gymnastics is just one area of concentration at the Steamboat Gymnastics Center. Co-owner Dan Atkins' area of expertise is working with younger children on developing self-confidence and strength through gymnastics.

The growing popularity of the center's Tiny Tots program for children 15 months to 3 years has prompted Atkins to offer nine classes during the upcoming session, which begins Jan. 5.

"I think we've got it down to a pretty good science as to how to deal with those children," Atkins said. "We eliminated the negatives by encouraging parent participation. Parents really enjoy having time with their children instead of dropping them off and leaving."

Parent participation is a driving force behind Tiny Tots. The center provides young children, particularly those not old enough to play outside on their own, an atmosphere to learn to work with and get along with other children.

Through gymnastics, the children, helped and supported by parents, get stronger.

"We aren't demanding excellence," Atkins said. "It's about having fun. The emphasis is on sharing and taking turns and that's the structure we are trying to put into the child early on."

For more information on any of the Steamboat Gymnastics Center's programs or to register for upcoming sessions, call the center at 879-1624.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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