|By Michelle Kealey|
AGAWAM Earlier this month, seven gymnasts from the Springfield Turnverein Gymnastics program had the chance to participate in a competition much different than those they are used to.
Stefanie Littlefield, Eryn Keddy, Brittany Laflamme, Steve Lucia, Chris Lucia, Alex Watkins and Joe Viens travelled to New Orleans, LA to participate in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Junior Olympics, where they had the chance to compete against and watch gymnasts from other states.
Prior to the Junior Olympics, which took place Aug. 3-6, the gymnasts had to showcase their skills at the Paramount Gymnastics in Swansea, Mass. to qualify.
The seven gymnasts from the Springfield Turnverein program who qualified competed as Team New England of AAU in the Junior Olympics.
"They did great," said Maryann Connor, the head coach at the Turnverein.
Connor and the three other Springfield Turnverein gymnastics coaches, Jessica Hansen, Jan Filoso and Katie Nelson, went with the seven competitors and their parents to New Orleans.
She added that the Junior Olympics were the first national competition for all seven gymnasts and, for many of them, it was the first time competing outside of the Turners.
The gymnasts usually compete against other Turnverein (Turner) groups in the New England area. The boys team came in first place and the girls team came in second place, according to Connor.
The gymnasts competed in different age and skill level brackets.
Brittany Laflamme, a 14-year-old who has been doing gymnastics for 11 years, said, "I feel that I did really well for my first national competition. It was fun and a good experience."
Laflamme competed in a division with 19 other gymnasts and came in eighth overall. She said that she placed 11th on the beam; fourth on the floor; fifth on the bars and seventh on the vault.
She said that it was "fun" going to New Orleans and she would compete in a national competition again.
Joe Viens, a 10-year-old gymnast for the Springfield Turnverein, said that "it was freaky."
He said that he was nervous and had a scary feeling during the competition.
Conner explained that the arena was much larger than the one that they are used to when they practice and compete locally.
Although Viens said that he was nervous, he also said he would do it again "because it's a cool experience and is really fun."
Thirteen-year-old Stefanie Littlefield, who has been doing gymnastics for 11 years, said that the competition was a different experience because there were so many other people competing.
"I thought it was fun all together," she said. "I need a little more work."
She said that all of the tricks that she saw some of the more skilled gymnasts conquer "looked pretty fun" to learn.
"I want to be up there," she said, adding that she plans to work really hard "so next time I'll be ready."
Steve Lucia, a Springfield Turnverein gymnast placed first all around and received a score of 10, the highest attainable score, in the finals on the vault.
Conner said that the Junior Olympics were a learning experience for both the gymnasts and the coaches.
She added that she would "definitely" have the gymnasts participate in the event again.
Next year, the competition is in Hampton Road, VA July 26- Aug. 5.
In order to attend the Junior Olympics, the gymnasts and their families did fund-raising, which covered the airfare for all seven gymnasts and some costs for the coaches.
Connor said that they began fund-raising late last year, but plan to begin soon to cover costs for next year's event.
The Springfield Turnverein is having sign-ups for the gymnastics program on Sept. 2 from 5-8:30 p.m. and Sept. 3 from 12 - 6 p.m. The Springfield Turnverein offers classes for children ages two and up. For more information, call the Springfield Turnverein at 786-0924.
For more information about the AAU Junior Olympics or to view results, visit www.aaujrogames.org.