Gymnastics News Network
By: Eileen Patchey
World Class Gymnastics Academy in Latham, New York has sent their fair share of athletes to college teams, but what many people don’t know is that they also have a lesser known group that they coach. These athletes are equally as hard working, dedicated, and passionate about their sport but sometimes aren’t afforded the opportunity to practice it. You see, WCGA has a team made up entirely of Special Olympians. Ranging in age from eight to sixteen, these athletes have been training hard for the upcoming New York State Special Olympic Games to be held at Siena College June 16-18, 2017.
The Summer Games are the largest of two annual state games and 5,048 competitive experiences held each year throughout New York. Athletes and coaches will travel to Siena College from around the state for the competition. Athletes must qualify at a local level to compete in the State Summer Games. This will mark the first time in a decade that Special Olympics New York will be back in the Capital Region for the State Summer Games. Special Olympics New York provides year-round sports training and competition in 22 Olympic-style sports to children and adults with intellectual disabilities at no cost to the athletes, their families or caregivers. There are 67,162 athletes that train and compete with Special Olympics New York, the largest Special Olympics program in North America.
WCGA NY recently held a mock meet at their gym to give the team of Special Olympians a feel for how the State competition is run. The team of eight includes Stephanie Hamelink, Brenna Mahoney, Isabella Brinkerhoff, Ella Twiss, Bree Gleason, Chloe LaBrecque, Alex Doering and Miles Rosenberry. The team practices once a week year round, with an added training day each week for the eight weeks prior to the State Games. In training, the team (who are all on different levels) specifically practice the skills and routines from the Special Olympics Gymnastics Training Guide. In the year round class, the coaches follow the progressive program of World Class Gymnastics Academy teaching the kids basic gymnastics skills and techniques.
The choreography is directly derived from the Special Olympics Gymnastics Training Guide. This year the team had 2 level 3 athletes with optional routines. The boys coach (Brendan Quackenbush) choreographed the boy’s routines. Special Olympics Head Coach Marlene Michels along with WCGA coach Lynsey Moore, choreographed the 1 girl’s beam and floor routine (respectively).
World Class donates the use of their facilities and the coaches volunteer their time in preparation for the big event. The devoted coaching staff includes Marlene Michels; Head Coach and World Class Gymnastics Coach of regular and Special Needs Classes, Dawn Mahoney; World Class Gymnastics Coach, Deidre Meier; World Class Gymnastics Coach and special needs classes, and Brendan Quackenbush; World Class Gymnastics Boys Coach.
Head coach Marlene Michels who is Certified in Adapted Physical Education, uses her background to teach gymnastics to children on the autism spectrum and those with down syndrome or with various health impairments.
“It’s a challenge sometimes when they’re not able to express how they’re feeling or what they don’t understand as part of the gymnastics,” Michels said.
One way the coaches get around the communication barrier is by using cues or sign language. “I have always used sign language to teach because it gives students another form of communication to focus on” said Michels. “All children can learn! Just not in the same day or the same way!”
Michels said the plan for the State Games is to show the local families the progression and hard work that the athletes have put into training as well as the love for gymnastics that shows thru their spunk and smiles. “The good thing is that the athletes take their class at the same time as other recreation classes, so their parents and other local families get to see their progression every week. And we get to hear the comments of praise!”
“A common misconception about our athletes is that they can just do anything and look cute or great. However, as coaches we hold them to a high standard. They work on the little things like holding a position, straight arms and legs, pointed toes, musicality, and “sticking their landings” said Michels.
When asked what she would like to see happen in the future for the Special Olympic athletes and other athletes with special needs, Michels responded, “First, I would like to see our program grow. Anyone interested? We are truly blessed with support from the owners, Erik Quaal and Ami Sabari, and the staff of WCGA. Second, I would like to see other gyms start a program for some local competition. Since the athletes train all year, it would be good to have some local competition, then go to a Regional Meet, and then culminate at the Summer State Games”.
If you would like to cheer on these awesome athletes and their coaches, their competition will be on Saturday, June 17th at 1pm at World Class Gymnastics Academy, 630 Columbia Street Ext., Latham, NY.
NY Special Olympics is also looking for volunteers to support the State Summer Games competitions and events including:
- Opening ceremony staff and support
- Staff for all sporting venues
- Set up and break down at all venues
- Distribute lunches
- “Fans in the Stands” at the opening ceremonies and all events, cheering the athletes on to victory
Source: Special Olymnpics-New York, GNN
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