For the first time since 1994, Geneseo has a Junior Olympic Gymnastics team. In the squad’s first year of competition the girls are already seeing success as they plan a trip to the state meet.
“We had talented students and felt like they were at the ability level where they could be in competition,” said coach Chris Ward. “Some of the girls were in clubs in the Quad Cities, and we had some interest from girls and parents here.”
Chris and Larry Ward, instructors of the gymnastics program at the Geneseo Community Center, coached Junior Olympic teams in the past and decided they wanted to coach a Junior Olympic team one more time.
“We both really enjoy it,” said Chris Ward. “The kids and parents are very dedicated, supportive and excited about it.”
The Wards are joined by Aubrey Marks, who has coached at larger clubs in Florida before coming to Geneseo, on the coaching staff.
“Aubrey has really sparked things up and has that enthusiasm and energy. There is a good chemistry with the three of us,” said Chris Ward. “We also have had a lot of positive support from Molly Hamer and Jackie Beach (at the community center) with the organizational part.”
The gymnasts have competed in several invitationals this season and will compete in the state invite April 5-7 at Redbird Arena in Normal.
At competitions, the girls are put into sessions according to their birthdate and by level. Geneseo currently has 16 girls competing in Level 3 and Level 4. All girls compete in each event which includes: bars, beam, floor and vault.
“Our girls range from 7 to 12 years old, but you can compete in Junior Olympics up to 18 years old,” said Chris Ward. “The girls’ levels are determined by their skills and routines and there is certain criteria the girls have to meet to reach the different levels.”
To advance to the state meet, the Level 3 gymnasts had to score a 32 all-around score and a the Level 4 gymnasts had to score a 33 all-around score, said Chris Ward.
“The girls have exceeded our expectations,” she said. “If you would have told me last summer that this many would have qualified for state I might not have believed it because hardly any of them could do a round-off back handspring by themselves and now they can.
“It is fun to see them progress, and it has been fun to watch them. We have really enjoyed watching how they’ve done. It has been one of the best things we’ve ever done.”