Photos Cameron Flaisch
Balance beams and uneven bars and vaults, oh my!
These things may sound intimidating, but under the guidance of Head Coach Matt Zollitsch at Rome Floyd Parks and Recreation Authority (RFPRA) Gymnastics Center, they are simply resources of wisdom he uses to help teach young children the basics of gymnastics. I would know, as Zollitsch put me through their skills test in order to decide whether or not I would make the Rome Aerials Gymnastics team or not.
To be continued…
If you’re anything like me, the extent of what you know about gymnastics is more than likely only what you’ve seen on television during the Summer Olympics. I know I’m not alone. Zollitsch says when the Summer Olympics is happening the center tends to see a rise of about 30 percent in numbers of athletes who want to join, much like gym memberships when the New Year’s resolutions see a push.
With that being said, as I went in for my interview with Zollitsch, I was nervous as to what I was getting myself in to.
“USA Gymnastics has levels one through ten. Five to seven are your high compulsory levels when athletes begin to have routines made for them, and levels eight to ten is your higher-level gymnastics like twisting, double backs, etc. The Center starts at level three and goes through level ten. We allow children from age six and up to start learning basic skills such as a round-off back handspring. When they get to level four, they start the high bar, Kipps, swings, and other level appropriate disciplines,” says Zollitsch.
Zollitsch and I started our skills training by stretching and preparing my old body for complete and utter annihilation. Before beginning the actual gymnastics part of the session, Zollitsch took the time to explain the safety guidelines the Center follows as they are careful to prevent injuries taking place in the complex. Zollitsch says, “I like to call the gym an athletic classroom, because children essentially get the same lessons here as they would in an academic setting. I like to make sure the kids are in the right place to advance before throwing them into something they are not ready for.”
After going over safety and signing a waiver, of course, we began on the floor with a simple power hurdle round-off back handspring, then moved on to trampoline where I began twisting.
I should’ve started this piece off with a disclosure. I have been a competitive cheerleader for over half of my 22 years on this earth. However, cheerleading is nothing like gymnastics, and I would soon figure this out once we moved on to the bars and beam.
While completing the skills test, I asked Zollitsch what sort of commitment is needed to compete with the Rome Aerials Gymnastics Team.
For the children who commit to the gymnastics program at the Center, three days a week is required in the gym for roughly three hours at a time, and the levels 9-10 come in on Fridays as well. So the lower levels of skill are looking at spending in between 16 and 20 hours per week at the Center. This doesn’t leave much time for anything else, since gymnastics is a year-round sport. Many athletes do not commit because they play other sports like soccer, basketball, etc. Zollitsch says that some of his gymnasts do play seasonal sports, but it is pretty tough on a schedule.
“We have a priority list here for everyone that is on a team, or for anyone who is going to be around the gym. We preach family and God first, education second, gymnastics third, and social life and so on fourth,” says Zollitsch.
Where this does sound overwhelming to some parents and children, there are many rewards in connecting to the sport of gymnastics and what these children receive after training at the Center.
“Every child builds comradery with their teammates. Their family is here because they essentially lack a ‘normal’ social life. Most drive straight from school to the gym, which is why there is a dedicated homework room at the gym for the students who travel to practice,” says Zollitsch.
He also says a lot of the coaches become mentors and in some cases, see the children more than the parents do, so it’s important that the atmosphere is welcoming and that the children realize their coaches are more than coaches but are mentors, friends, and teachers. They grow in the gym just as much as they do at school, if not more.
As we approached the end of our training session (and injury free I may add) Zollitsch pulled out a medal and presented me with the honor of “joining” the Rome Aerials for the next season. As much as I would love to, I begrudgingly turned down the offer and left the center with a whole plethora of knowledge about the sport of gymnastics, which is something that everyone should take time to explore if they are interested in the sport.
Since the SPLOST vote in 2009, and the construction of the complex in 2011, the RFPRA Gymnastics Center has housed over 200 athletes and around 70 team kids. RFPRA Gymnastics Center has hosted over three state meets, each of which have brought in $250,000 in economic impact for the City of Rome, and have had a net profit of over $675,000 since its inaugural season. As the largest, county funded, year-round sport that Rome and Floyd County offers, the absence of community support makes growth from year to year tough.
“We don’t get much coverage, and we run much of our own PR. Since gymnastics is an all-year sport, the pieces of equipment we have get used by open gym kids, tot-time kids and more almost seven days a week. That is a lot of wear and tear on the equipment, and we don’t get a ton of help financially. We either have to raise the money ourselves, or work with what we have,” says Zollitsch.
Zollitsch preaches the importance of the family, as well as the community these children represent.
With the help needed to sustain the program, maybe we can feel the pride of watching one of Rome’s sons or daughters take the podium on the world’s stage.
Find out how you can help by contacting Matt Zollitsch at www.rfpra.com/gymnastics. Also, the center can be reached by phone at 706.291.0766