John Vande Velde is done doing back handsprings off the family couch.
"I'd hit the table," the 8-year old said. "But I did backflips on my mom's bed."
Vande Velde is one of 10 boys who has decided to join the newly created competitive boys team at the Steamboat Gymnastics Center.
When Dan and Rose Atkins bought the center eight years ago, there were two boys who came in on afternoons to play around, but there were no male-specific classes.
Now, there are two training classes with 14 boys each and a competitive team with 10 members, though not every boy is interested in competing.
"They have the courage, strength and desire to do the next level and expressed an interest in competing," Dan Atkins said. "In May, we are taking a few to some meets."
The boys range in age from 6 to 10 and will compete at Level 7 this spring. It is the lowest classification in Colorado, but it will be a good place for them to start.
"We have to work harder on keeping our legs straight and toes pointed," said Dustin Atkins, 10.
The boys will have the opportunity to do short, set routines on all six apparatuses -- floor, parallel bars, high bar, vault, rings and pommel horse.
The younger competitors can opt to use a mushroom-shaped apparatus instead of the pommel horse if they choose.
"At this age, it's intriguing at how much they want to learn and how quickly some of them learn," Dan Atkins said. "We have some fun. We love the energy in here."
The Steamboat Gymnastics Center staged its fourth annual exhibition show Saturday night, so Friday was dress rehearsal day for each group involved, including the boys' team.
Dressed in lime green T-shirts, Vande Velde, Dustin Atkins, Cole Gibbs, Jasper Good and Brodee Smith-Lawrence were easy to spot on the other side of the gym, sprinting down the Tumble Track and flipping onto the heavy blue pad during Friday afternoon's warm-ups.
Jace Smith and Charles Toye also are members of the competitive team.
"I like the Tumble Track," Good said. "It's fun."
The Tumble Track is a long, bouncy runway that enables the gymnasts to get more height on the flips, twists and handsprings.
Dustin Atkins and Vande Velde said there are days when they might be the only two boys in the gym with 35 to 40 girls, but they and the other members of the boys' team are learning gymnastics is more than just a sport for females.
Through gymnastics, Dan Atkins and assistant coaches Greg Forney, Kim Jones and Deirdre Bernard are hoping to increase self-esteem in the boys, as well as teach them more about body awareness and increase core strength, including lower back and abdomen strength.
"I like to show them ways to help in early development of their bodies," Dan Atkins said. "People don't need to be persuaded to understand that this sport complements other sports they like to do."
People also don't need much persuasion to understand how much fun the boys are having. Take tiny Cole Gibbs, for example. He's just 6 but has no fear when it comes to gymnastics.
Friday, he took his turn on the Tumble Track, doing a series of cartwheels down the runway before ending his run with a front flip and a smile.
"I think I have a tiny bit more energy now than when I started gymnastics," Gibbs said.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org