A tae kwon do battle in one corner, a gymnastics floor ex ercise in the other. The bass from cheerleading routine music rings throughout the Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds as a young karate protege becomes the pride of his academy.
The Suncoast Sports Festival is the vision of Arnold Gwinn, owner of the Suncoast Gymnastics Academy in Port Richey. This is the second year the event has taken place, and Gwinn sees the competition growing into a much bigger event in the future.
"I want to create something that is just a bit different," Gwinn said. "Next year, we're working on getting soccer, baseball and basketball so that we can develop a mini Olympics, where we bring people from all over into Tampa on the same weekend for one big sporting event."
The competition attracted 1,500 athletes from ages 5-18, most of which were informed about the event by e-mail. Seven states were represented at the competition, but Gwinn is looking to broaden the array of athletes from different places.
Suncoast Gymnastics Academy served as hosts for the event, but Gwinn recruited other local academy owners to help with the organization.
Master Greg Phillips of the Phillips Karate Academy in New Port Richey heard about the event from Gwinn and immediately began working on putting a tournament together.
"It took a few months, but we've got six different schools that are here," Phillips said. "We have weapons divisions, as well as hand-to-hand techniques. Events like this are huge confidence builders for the kids competing, so I think it's important for the kids to have something like this."
Judges for each event are brought in through each sport's sanctioning body. For example, USA Gymnastics provides the judges for the gymnastics competitions.
For the athletes, the opportunity to compete in front of professional judges on a scale as grand as the Suncoast Sports Festival is a priceless experience.
"We've been practicing constantly for this," Envision All-Stars competitive cheerleading team captain Kayleen Lozada said. "We feed off these types of events. You see other teams and what they can do, and we want to be better. For this to be as close to home as it is, I can't put into words what it means to have something like this."
Gwinn's efforts to build a "mini Olympics" may be taking big steps in its first two years, partially due to the lack of these type of competitions around the country.
"I don't know of many other multisport competitions that are advertised as national competitions," Gwinn said. "To have this many athletes show up in only our second year gives us confidence that this competition has the potential to grow into what we want it to be."
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