On Friday, November 13 the Opening Ceremonies were held for the 43rd Annual Special Olympics Florida State Fall Classic at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, FL.
This two day event hosted over 3,800 athletes, coaches, families, and volunteers from 46 counties in the state of Florida.
Three of the premier events was the Men’s & Women’s Artistic Gymnastics and Rhythmic Gymnastics competitions.
Competing in these events were 114 gymnasts from 13 counties in Florida (Broward, Escambia, Hillsborough, Leon, Martin, Miami-Dade, Osceola, Pasco, Pinellas, Santa Rosa, Seminole, St. Lucie, and Taylor).
Women’s & Men’s Artistic gymnasts are able to compete in one of three events; Mixed Gender Events, Women’s Events, and Men’s Events.
Mixed Gender Events, Levels A & B, are compulsory routines conducted on Vault, Single Bar, Wide Beam, and Floor Exercise.
Level A routines are performed by athletes that have ambulatory problems or similarly related issues. In Level B, athletes also compete compulsory routines but do not have a high enough skill level to perform Level 1 routines.
Lauren Petrick, Founder & Athletic Program Director of LEAP South Florida, comments about athletes with disabilities, “As the number of developmental disabilities continues to increase, the services and therapies to meet their ever growing needs have also increased. With the focus being on essential modalities in treatment… the importance of recreational activities that have the potential to support these therapies has been greatly overlooked.”
Men’s Levels 1 – 4 routines are performed on Floor, Pommel Horse, Rings, Vault, Parallel bars, and horizontal Bar. Women’s Levels 1 – 4 are performed on Vault, Uneven Bars, Balance Beam, and Floor Exercise.
Level 1 is considered a beginner compulsory level and Level 2, an intermediate compulsory level. In Level 3, athletes are able to perform compulsory level skills in any order and/or combination they want. Level 4 is an optional level in which athletes can chose the skills they want to perform in any order they want to perform them.
In Rhythmic Gymnastics, Levels A & B are mixed gender compulsory levels in which athletes perform using a Rope, Hoop, Ball, and Ribbon. Level A routines are performed in a seated position.
Rhythmic Levels 1 – 4 are for females only with Levels 1 -3 being considered Compulsory Levels and Level 4 being an Optional Level in which athletes must fill specific requirements. Level 1 uses a Rope, Hoop, Ball, and Ribbon to compete while Levels 2 & 4 use a Hoop, Ball, Clubs, and Ribbon and Level 3 uses a Rope, Ball, Clubs, and Ribbon.
Rhythmic gymnasts may also compete in a Group Routine consisting of 4 or 6 athletes performing compulsory routines. Athletes can participate in a Group Rhythmic Floor Exercise routine and/or a Group Ball routine.
Many of the Special Olympics participants train right alongside Recreational and Team athletes in USAG and AAU gyms. Classes are offered for individuals with special needs. These classes are adapted to fit the unique abilities of these individuals.
Lisa Arrowood, owner of Taylor Gymnastics offers such classes. She states, “I offer special needs classes in my gym because it is an opportunity for me to give back and offer this great community of athletes the chance to learn and grow in their personal lives through the awesome sport of gymnastics. These athletes want to learn and be involved just like any other student that signs up for classes. As they train, they develop their confidence and skills. Through repetition and perseverance, they become gymnasts!”
These gymnastics events are organized and run by a group of loyal and dedicated volunteers from across the state. Over 20 volunteers helped to make this event possible. These volunteers included the gymnastics judges, score keepers, score flashers, awards personnel, announcers, and more.
Sherry Wheelock, President and CEO of Special Olympics Florida, states, “State Fall Classic, and every day in a Special Olympics athlete’s life, is possible because of the extraordinary community of volunteers, coaches, sponsors and family members who give of their time, resources, compassion and expertise to help turn our athletes’ dreams into reality.”
I personally have been judging at this event for three years now and love seeing the diversity of ability levels of each athlete participating in our sport. The emotional and physical support the coaches provide to their athletes is amazing. And, from what I can tell, the biggest reward the coaches receive from their athletes are the smiles and hugs received at the end of their athlete’s routines!
If you are interested in volunteering for the gymnastics events at next year’s Fall Classic, contact Lisa Arrowood at email@example.com.
Resources: specialolympicsflorida.org, specialolympics.org