Thursday, April 19, 2012

Gymnastics and Reno

Crazy busy, and my brain wants to noodle around and mess around and do almost anything but what is needed for the deadlines. So, well, a wee break to satisfy the hamsters, I guess.

We were in Reno last weekend for Casey's big USA Gymnastics Region 1 final competition. He's a level 6, the highest he can go at his age, and he made the Northern California All Star team a few weeks ago, so he was given a special uniform and competed with the other boys who made the All Star Team. He saw his Demaray's teammates during the meet since they were at least in the same competition, but he was on different events at different times than they were. He said it felt strange, but he also felt like he had to do a good job because he was representing his team.
So Region 1 includes Northern California, Southern California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii. This region is the most populated and the most competitive in the nation, apparently. At least that's what everyone tells me. And since I know very little about all the politics and stuff around all of it I tend to accept it at face value. Casey being on the Northern CA All Star Team meant that he was on one of the teams competing for trophies; only the various state all star teams were considered for team awards at this big Regional meet.
The actual meet was huge; running smoothly over 5 days with Levels 5 through 10 and various age ranges for each level. Casey's level 6 compatriots were only a small portion of the overall number of kids competing.
Part of the idea of these meets and the USA Gymnastics Association is to help kids have positive experiences with gymnastics competition. A benefit as well is that they help develop the athletes who go on in the sport to compete in things like the Olympics. The boys who do really well academically as well as in the competitions and stay in it up through high school can get recruited for 'full ride' scholarships to places like Stanford and UC Berkeley, though college funding for the sport is in serious jeopardy. The UC Berkeley team is fighting to keep their funding, and the rest of the universities are following very closely on what happens with the Berkeley case.
The kids who try gymnastics, like it and continue with it, and then join a competitive team have to learn discipline and they work really hard all year round, even during the off season.
For a bit of background, Casey and Riley both started doing gymnastics at a beginner class when they were in 1st grade; they learned basic tumbling and started on the basics for the gymnastics skills that are needed and form the basis for all of the more complex moves. That expanded for a few years for both of them.
They were both good at it, though Casey had the clear advantage over Riley of having a very strong, compact build while Riley is taller, rangy and lacks the sort of upper body strength Casey has. Riley eventually wanted to drop out and go into track and cross country as well as basketball instead, and Casey made it clear all along that he wanted to continue steadily on with gymnastics. Casey now goes to gymnastics 5 days a week, 3 hours per day, every week, more during the summer. A day off is very unusual. If Casey were to drop out for an extended period, like a year, he would not be able to get back to the level he is at now; the conditioning for flexibility and the strength required to be good at this are things that they work at always, constantly.
It's really amazing to see these little guys do these impossible things, as well as follow all the restrictions and structure required of them. It's a far distance from complaining about doing chores and homework. I have taken a fair amount of flak from other people, especially other parents, who would never subject their kids to such strenuous and demanding routines, or put them through such hard competition and judging. I have been warned by people worried for his health about putting his body through all of the things the sport requires, warned that he will grow up distorted in mind and body from the constant strain and disipline. And I have learned to listen politely, nod and let them gently know that Casey himself is the one who wants to do this so badly; he loves it, he craves it and he knows he always has the choice of stopping in this sport whenever he wants or needs to. So far he's been very clear and he wants to keep going, getting better, being as good at it as he can be. He understands that he has to do well academically in order to continue, so he keeps his grades up and gets on the honor roll every semester. He's one of those kids who wants to compete, wants to do well, and we end up watching him with some bemusement. Where did he come from? Where will it all lead him?
It's very competitive, make no mistake about that. Kids of every ability level have to learn to deal with the pressure of being judged by tough professional judges as well as realizing they aren't always the best in the crowd, and if they're very lucky, like Casey, they learn to measure their accomplishments not only against other boys who are really exceptionally good, but against their own abilities.
Sounds like a load of bunk, I know, but Casey came away from this competition really happy. He didn't come in first in anything; he came in third on rings and 11th on high bar, 11th all around. At the local and state meets he went to with his team throughout the season, he was getting used to getting a medal in almost every event, used to placing in the top three on most everything. Not here. And yet he was really happy with how he did, because he beat his own personal all around record score. I was really pretty impressed with his attitude. Though getting a couple of medals as well as his own trophy when his All Star Team won third place probably helped his mood too. ;)

So the next day after the big Regional meet, we drove home from Reno, through Donner Pass, and stopped and played in the snow for a while. The boys loved it. And life was good.
And we got home that evening just in time for Casey to make it to gymnastics practice.


  1. Good for Casey. Sounds like he is doing Exactly what he wants, and that sounds perfect to this grandma.
    Personal Best! is always to be worked toward. Sounds like he has the best attitude as well.
    Whatever he ends up doing in life, he has learned a good lesson - Always aim for Your Best. After that, everything else is attainable.

  2. Yay for Casey!

    I've taught a number of student athletes over the years, and was struck by the maturity and responsibility demonstrated by some. Gymnastics seems to be one of those sports that encourages those traits, and doesn't encourage the bad stuff (violence towards women, binge drinking, etc) that some sports seem to (at some schools/programs).

  3. Wow! Both Casey's achievements and his attitude impress me.

    I'm going to comment on something you mentioned in passing just because I happen to know something about it. My apologies if you know all this already. Stanford gives every student as much financial aid as he/she needs. Students with parental income under $100,000 pay no tuition. Academic standards are somewhat lower for academic scholarships than for regular admission. Taking into account the amount of training needed to get an academic scholarship, it's clearly easier to get into Stanford the regular way. The Stanford men's gymnastics team is ranked third in the country, has reached the finals of the NCAA championship six years in a row, and has won twice in those six years.

  4. Thank you so much, Beckett. You make sure our important family events get recorded and put out there for people to see. :{)}

    By the way, Casey got 8th place on high bar, not 11th.