YMCA National Gymnastics Championships coming to Tampa

A national gymnastics competition is coming to Tampa, bringing prestige and dollars.
Published June 26 2014

SEFFNER — It's rare for Aly LaHay's extended family to see her execute difficult tricks on a balance beam or stick a floor routine filled with back handsprings and roundoffs.

Her gymnastics competitions are usually out of town.

But the 9-year-old expects to see a lot of familiar faces when she competes next week at the Tampa Convention Center.

The Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA and Sarasota Family YMCA will host the 2014 YMCA National Gymnastics Championships from Wednesday through July 5. It's expected to draw 1,800 athletes and their families from all over the country.

Aly and 19 other gymnasts from the North Brandon YMCA in Seffner qualified for the event. More than 60 gymnasts from Tampa's Bob Sierra YMCA qualified.

"It's exciting," Aly, who lives in Brandon, said. "I'm going to have a lot of family there."

The event is a big coup for the Tampa and Sarasota YMCAs and the Tampa Bay area. Opening ceremonies will be held Wednesday at Raymond James Stadium. The competition runs Thursday through July 5 at the Tampa Convention Center.

The event spotlights local YMCAs and its gymnasts. It also brings thousands of tourists to town. The competition's economic impact is estimated at $4.5 million.

More than 100 teams from 23 states are expected at the event, some traveling to Tampa from as far away as California.

"Our kids are so excited," said Kirsten Barton, a representative of the Tampa Metro YMCA. "It's a big deal for the kids to host the event."

The Tampa Bay Sports Commission, which helped the Y land the competition, is thrilled that thousands will descend on Tampa.

Jason Aughey, the sports commission's senior director, said the event will create an economic impact now and likely in the future.

"It's a great way to showcase all of Tampa Bay," he said. "It could lead to repeat visits."

Jay Buckmaster, a top Tampa Metro YMCA official, is happy to see the event return to the area. Tampa last hosted the competition in 1993.

Buckmaster thinks Tampa earned the hosting rights because it can offer a high-quality gymnastics event and also give competitors and their families perks outside the gym, like beaches, amusement parks and Florida's weather.

"I do think Tampa is a destination city," he said. "We have a lot to offer."

Tyna Papillon, the gymnastics coach at the North Brandon YMCA, said she and the girls are excited to compete on a big stage in their hometown in front of friends and family. The girls, ages 7 to 14, will compete in beam, bars, floor and vault.

The girls on the competition team at the North Brandon YMCA train 8 to 16 hours a week, depending on their level. They do not complain about the rigorous training or the time they spend at the gym.

"This is what I love to do," said Lexi Kirschner, 14, of Seffner, whose gymnastics career started at age 6.

Papillon calls gymnastics a good sport for kids because it makes them physically fit. Gymnasts work all muscles, she said. The sport involves stretching, conditioning, weights, cardio and repetition. Gymnasts have to do the moves over and over until they get them right.

"To me, it's the most physically challenging sport there is," she said. "With gymnastics, you're focused on the whole body. We're working arms, we're working legs and we're working abs."

Papillon hopes the event heightens awareness that the YMCA offers more than a fitness facility for adults and basketball programs for youth. Children, she said, can receive high-quality gymnastics training at the YMCA.

"We have programs," she said, "and they are competitive."

Buckmaster added that many Olympic athletes got their start training at a YMCA.

Maya Banks, 13, of Seffner, looks forward to gym days. She says she doesn't want to train anywhere else. Her teammates are her friends. They often get together outside the gym to watch movies, swim and hang out.

"The YMCA really feels like family," she said. "It's the best place to be."

While Papillon hopes the kids do well at the competition, she said she does not feel pressure to win because she and the girls are part of the host team.

"It's an exciting opportunity," she said. "This feels like something we get to own."

Monica Bennett can be reached at [email protected]