Boys and girls alike will flip for Gator gymnastics

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 12:33 a.m.
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As a spectator sport, gymnastics makes it easy for children of both genders to appreciate the capabilities of female athletes.

Sun file photo
Ten reasons why gymnastics may be the perfect Gator sports experience for the littlest kids:
  • 1. You don't have to know anything about the sport to appreciate it. Even if you don't understand the difference between a Yurchenko double twist and a front tuck salto, it's easy to see the athleticism in hurling yourself headfirst, backwards, 10 feet in the air. Kids who are taking gymnastics will love seeing the culmination of the skills they're learning, although it may be worth warning kids that these athletes have trained for many years to hone their skills, and throwing themselves off a high object will not allow them to duplicate it.
  • 2. Restless kids? No problem. You can get up and change seats four times, check out the scene from every possible end of the O'Connell Center, sit in the comfy seatbacks or the up-close-and-personal bleachers. It's nice to be free from the withering looks of the people whose knees you normally have to climb over during innumerable trips down the aisle for soft pretzels, bathroom breaks and general fidgetiness.
  • 3. Gymnastics appeals to boys and girls alike. Let's face it, the guys' teams get more attention across the board, so it's great for kids of both genders to appreciate the capabilities of female athletes. Yes, there is a lot of glittery face paint in the stands (or was that inexpertly applied lip gloss?) but the power, speed and grace of these athletes transcends gender.
  • 4. The concession and restroom lines won't cause you to miss half of the event.
  • 5. The time, duration and structure of a gymnastics meet are very kid-friendly. Meets start at 7 p.m. and are usually wrapping up by 9 p.m. Kids are free and adults are just $4, so even if you have to pull up stakes early with tired kids, you'll feel that you've gotten your money's worth. And the action is constant. Each meet consists of four events: vault, uneven bars, beam and floor, with the teams rotating through the events. As soon as one athlete finishes on bars, for example, another from the opposing team begins on the vault, so there's always something to watch.
  • 6. Manageable crowds. At the home meet on Feb. 16, more than 4,000 fans turned out to watch the No. 1-ranked Gators take on Kentucky. That was a big enough crowd to raise the roof of the O'Connell Center for freshman Melanie Sinclair's perfect 10 on the uneven bars, but it's not packed to the gills. This is a very good thing for those of us who dread taking small children into crowds, especially at sporting events where they will accidentally beat everyone within a 50-foot radius about the head and shoulders with those orange-and-blue pom poms.
  • 7. If your kids get hooked on Gator Gymnastics, they can check out the Gator Gym Gang (, a fan club that offers a basic annual membership for $30. Members get invitations to post-meet receptions, the UF Gymnastics Media Guide and access to monthly membership meetings. Higher membership levels include booster shirts and tickets to the team awards banquet.
  • 8. Climate control. No freezing or baking on metal bleachers.
  • 9. Free stuff and fun promotions. Past meets have seen giveaways of T-shirts and light-up necklaces, and both of the remaining home meets will have freebies: On Friday, the first 1,000 fans will receive free Burrito Bucks from Chipotle Grill, while campus employees get free admission for two adults with the coupons distributed to UF staff, and UF alumni are invited to a pre-meet social. It's also KTK/Gainesville Sun Gator Kids Club Day, when all Gator Kids Club members will create a tunnel for the gymnasts to run through and enjoy a post-meet ice cream party.
    March 16 is Mother/Daughter night, with $1 admission and concessions. O2BKids will give out coupons for a free visit, and the first 1,000 fans will get a surprise gift from Hilton.
    The Dazzlers will perform during the meets, and the folks who roam the stands with sling shots will be flinging T-shirts into the crowd after each rotation. Arrive early to have a chance to be the Gator Flower Girl, in which two children 12 and younger are chosen to present flowers to the gymnasts after the meet.
  • 10. It's a friendly, low-pressure experience. There's no cursing, pushing or rowdy behavior. That's not to say that fans aren't excited about the action at the O'Dome: quite to the contrary. When the Gators take the floor, the energy is palpable. But there's no swearing over bad calls, no poor sportsmanship. Rivalry is subdued: In many ways, gymnasts are really competing against themselves, challenging themselves to their personal best. It's not solely about being better than the opponent, but reaching new heights.
    In a world where crazed sports parents get thrown out of little-league events for harassing kids on the field, that's a lesson we can all take home.
    E-mail Alisson Clark at
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