Nine gymnasts will represent the Liberty County Armed Services YMCA at the YMCA Gymnastics National Championship and Festival for the very first time in the YMCA’s history.
The YMCA of Coastal Georgia won the bid to host the championship which will take place June 29 through July 2 at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center.
Liberty’s gymnasts will compete alongside the Islands Family YMCA Gymnastics Team and 2,000 gymnasts from across the nation, in front of a crowd of 5,000 people.
Those gymnasts are Sania Williams, Erica Mock, Victoria Johnson, Ayanna Scott, Lyric Wilson, Maggie Horton, Sophia Hool and Delaycia Fleming.
Carol Tanrath, executive director of the Liberty County/Armed Services YMCA, is also the meet director overseeing the whole event.
When Tanrath took over the position one of her goals was to host a YMCA gymnastics national event, which came true.
During the bid process the Y-USA committee evaluated community support, the local YMCA association and did a site visit.
“They look at the strength of the association that’s hosting it and if the parent groups are interested in it,” Tanrath said. “So it was a joint effort.”
Tanrath has been involved in gymnastics for nearly 40 years and said this competition is “probably the most exciting event that I’ve ever been a part of.”
“I think I’m more excited this year to have the Liberty branch part of it because over the years I’ve seen a gymnastics program here but never one that was brave enough to step up to the national championship. It’s a huge meet. And it’s going to be the largest one this group has ever seen.”
And the coach leading the team to nationals is Gymnastics Coordinator Sonya Marx.
Marx became coordinator July 2016 and the program has grown from 15 to over 70 participants, Tanrath said.
Marx has been doing gymnastics since she was 2 years old. She competed for a club in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and for her high school team. Marx was in the army for five and a half years and was a lifeguard at the YMCA when she heard about the open gymnastics coach position.
Gymnastics is taught in a white building on the property filled with tumbling mats, balance beams, bars and other equipment to get the girls ready for competition.
Hool and Fleming will be competing as level 1 gymnasts and Williams, Mock, Johnson, Scott, Wilson and Horton will be competing as Xcel Silver.
Marx talked about the team’s strengths.
“I think their bars look great and their floor looks great too, but mainly I like how they’re team oriented,” Marx said. “They like to cheer each other on. They’re really big on that. I think we need to improve on vault because we don’t have a full vault set, so that’s something we’re working towards, getting new equipment.”
Marx is excited for her team’s first time at nationals and particularly likes that the event is local.
“I know they are ecstatic. It’s basically the Olympics for them,” she said.
Helping Marx are assistant coaches Victoria Johnston and Cody Geoffrey.
Johnston has been a gymnast at the Liberty YMCA since she was 4 years old and took the assistant coach position in July 2016.
Geoffrey, a student at Liberty County High School, is a former gymnast and hopes to build a boys gymnastic team at the YMCA.
Hool, 5, said her favorite event is bars.
Scott, 9, said she wanted to do gymnastics after watching the Olympics.
“I’m excited about nationals. My goal is to get high nines and getting first place,” Scott said.
Horton, 10, hopes to just have fun at the competition and is looking forward to performing her floor routine, featuring the song “For Good” from the Broadway musical “Wicked.”
Johnson, 13, was inspired by Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas, and like her teammates she is also excited for the competition.
“I’m excited but nervous at the same time because it’s something new even though I’ve competed before,” Johnson said. “But I’m not worried. I’m game-ready.”
There will be an opening ceremony for all the gymnasts who will march in by state.
The gymnasts will wear special outfits designed by one of the parents for the opening ceremony and during the competition.
The opening ceremony is closed to the public.
The team will compete June 30 and July 1 at 3 p.m.
Tickets cost $15 for adults and $10 for children for one day and three-day passes cost $30.
More on the gymnastics team and their trip to nationals will be featured in the August-September edition of Liberty Life Magazine.