Learning from the best: No. 2 Gators gymnastics team hosts youth gymnastics clinic

Ainslie Lee
The Gainesville Sun

For weeks, eight-year-old Lainey Norton had been looking forward to Saturday, when she’d be able to sport her purple leotard and be under the same roof as members of the second-ranked Gators gymnastics team.

“She was really excited,” said Lainey’s mother, Sharia Hagley. “She’s been waiting for this day for a long time.”

Lainey was one of 100 young gymnasts to file into the doors of Balance 180 Gymnastics and Sports Academy Saturday afternoon to participate in a gymnastics clinic put on by the Gators gymnasts. The clinic was a partnership with Gatorverse, which markets itself as an exclusive community dedicated to connecting UF athletes with fans.

Participants gained entry to the clinic by purchasing any of Florida’s gymnast’s Gatorverse collectable cards, which range anywhere from $49 to $69, depending on the athlete.

Saturday’s clinic gave participants an opportunity to mirror Florida gymnastics’ warm-up and stretching routine, learn choreography from the Gators’ floor routines, take part in a Q&A session, get autographs and take photos with their favorite UF gymnasts.

For Lainey, who started gymnastics in September, that meant meeting Florida senior Trinity Thomas, who was named the SEC’s Gymnast of the Year for the third year in a row earlier in the week.

“I know that she really looks up to Trinity and loves watching her routines,” Hagley said of her daughter. “Being able to see her in person is a big thing. And of course, seeing a gymnast that looks like her, who’s amazing, is definitely awesome.”

Again and again and again:Trinity Thomas three-peats as SEC Gymnast of the Year

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Saturday’s clinic illustrates Gatorverse’s mission

As soon as the ink on the Name, Image and Likeness legislation dried, it became complicated.

But it doesn’t have to be, according to Gatorverse CEO Brian Klatsky.

“The mission with Gatorverse is to connect the athletes and the fans through creative collectables and then events like this,” Klatsky said.

Gatorverse is currently partnered with Florida’s gymnastics and men’s basketball teams, giving each player on the teams’ rosters their own collectable card, which are hand-signed by the respective student-athlete.

Entry to Saturday’s event was just one of the many perks that come with purchasing one of the collectable cards.

“It also comes with a digital access pass for access to real-life experiences and dialogues with student-athletes, plus rewards from local merchants and community partners,” according to Gatorverse’s website.

In the near future, Gatorverse hopes to partner with Gainesville-area merchants to add more value to the collectables.

“Let’s just say you had a Trinity card and she was connected with a local merchant and she gets a perfect 10,” Klatsky explained. “You bring that card in and you get something like free pizza the next day or whatever merchants we want to connect with. That’s really where we see the future.”

While Klatsky is looking forward to the growth of Gatorverse, which only launched in February, events like Saturday’s are surely building a strong foundation. And, it was a sellout as the Gators hosted 100 young gymnasts across two clinic sessions, as well as a walk-up meet and greet session.

The best part?

“A majority of the revenue goes directly to the athletes,” Klatksy said.

Since the inception of NIL, it’s been a struggle to figure out the right recipe.

In January, a reported $13 million NIL deal between the Gator Collective and blue-chip quarterback prospect Jaden Rashada fell apart, which led to Rashada backing out of his commitment and later enrolling at Arizona State.

Meanwhile, with a lot self-initiative and sweat equity, members of Florida’s gymnastics program have consistently inked NIL deals.

Saturday’s experience with Gatorverse was just another.

“We’re just getting started. Obviously this was a huge success, selling out with this type of crowd,” Klatsky said. “Having events like this, where you have passionate, young girls in town who get the chance to learn from them and train with them and then have a chance to ask questions and get to know them.

“It’s just a really unique thing. This is what NIL was all about.”

Gatorverse clinic a 'no-brainer' for Gators

Klatsky admits that it wasn’t easy scheduling Saturday’s clinic considering the Gators’ busy schedule.

The second-ranked Gators were one week removed from their SEC Championship win when they took the floor of Balance 180 Saturday. Now, Florida is preparing for its trip to the Pittsburgh Regional, where the Gators hold the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Gymnastics Championships.

Yet despite the quickly approaching postseason, the Gators didn’t mind freeing up a few hours of their weekend.

“As soon as Gatorverse came to be, it was a no brainer for most of us on the team,” said Florida senior Savannah Schoenherr. “Just so we could connect more one-on-one with some of the girls that really look up to us.”

During Saturday’s Q&A session, Schoenherr told the story of how she got her start in gymnastics. Her story drew laughs from the parents in attendance as she explained that she had way too much energy as a child, which led to her parents pushing her into the sport she later fell in love with.

Schoenherr was also recognized by one of the participants for carrying the pride flag out during Florida’s equality meet, making for what Schoenherr described as a “super special” interaction.

“When I was that age and I was so young, I looked up to the big girls and thought they were the coolest thing created by mankind,” Schoenherr said. “The fact that I’m in that position now and I’m able inspire young ones like I once was, it’s really cool and really special. I’m proud of myself for getting to this point and just really happy I can serve the younger girls and be that role model.”