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Young gymnasts learning the ropes

Alexa Strawn, 5, looks at the world upside down as she is helped over the uneven parallel bars by gymnastics instructor Ashley Burr. (Jon GiffinThe Vicksburg Post)

[6/23/04]Gymnasts are some of the fiercest competitors and hardest-training athletes in all the sports world.

But not the young gymnasts at camp this summer at Gym South, Inc. they’re just there to have a good time.

“We’re not here to make competitors out of these girls,” said Cherry Robbins, Gym South owner and head coach. “Some of them have never even been in a gym before. This is just an introduction to the sport without any kind of big commitment.”

Last week’s camp, which accepted gymnasts entering kindergarten through sixth grades, is just one in a series of three-day clinics that started June 8 and will run through the third week of July.

Through a small group environment and plenty of individual attention, Robbins and two of her assistant coaches, Rebecca Flanagan and Ashley Burr, both 18, are able to teach and advance the gymnasts much faster than they would in normally structured classes.

“They get a lot of personalized instruction during the camps,” Robbins said. “We probably spend about twice as much time on each event as we would in the regular classes.”

The children learn skills in the four areas of competitive gymnastics – balance beam, floor exercise, parallel bars and vault.

The camps are an opportunity for them to get instruction in all of them. Because many participants have no previous gymnastics experience, all of the coaching they get is encouraging and positive.

“We go a little easier on them in the camps than the regular classes,” Burr said. “They don’t really have very long attention spans, so we just make sure they’re having fun.”

The campers are not the only ones having fun, however.

“Getting to know all these kids is the best part of coaching,” Flanagan said. “I see them around town, and they get all excited and come up and hug me. It’s like having a bunch of little sisters.

“Watching them learn is really exciting too. It makes you feel like you’re really doing something for them.”

Though it may lack the competitive fire of other gymnastics classes, summer camp at Gym South serves its purpose well.

“I love gymnastics camp,” said Brittany Copeland, 8. “I make lots of friends and learn how to do stuff much better.”