SAVANNAH — The excitement was palpable as 2,000 gymnasts from across the country, wearing colorful outfits, waited to begin the opening ceremony of the YMCA Gymnastics National Championship and Festival.
The event officially kicked off Thursday evening at the Savannah Civic Center.
Teams lined up outside the center running around, dancing to music provided by Savannah’s G100 radio station, chanting their state’s name and having fun as the gymnasts lined up for their state’s turn to march in.
The YMCA of Coastal Georgia won the bid to host the championship this year.
As the host organization Coastal Georgia’s YMCA gymnastics teams, Liberty County/Armed Services YMCA and Islands Family YMCA, brought up the rear.
The Liberty gymnasts are Sania Williams, Erica Mock, Victoria Johnson, Ayanna Scott, Lyric Wilson, Maggie Horton, Sophia Hool and Delaycia Fleming.
This is the first time in the YMCA’s history that a gymnastic team from Liberty will be represented at the competition.
As they waited outside, gymnastics coordinator Sonya Marx helped the girls arrange glow sticks in their hair and assistant coach Cody Geoffrey wore a GoPro to capture the gymnasts’ point of view.
Before the opening ceremony, Fleming, 6, level one gymnast, said she was excited and happy.
"I like gymnastics because it always has lots of moves," Fleming said. "I like to do bars because I like to dismount."
Marx said her team was nervous, excited and "all the other good emotions."
Parents and family cheered as each state entered the venue and the groups were led onstage for a moment to dance.
When it was the host’s group turn, Liberty led the way, carrying a banner.
They wore red tutus, black sleeveless shirts with their names on the back and the front read "Wake up. Stretch. Eat. Compete. Have fun. Sleep. Repeat."
Islands Family members wore multi-colored, tie-dyed shirts.
When the Liberty and Islands got on stage, they led the gymnasts and the audience dancing to "YMCA."
The guest speaker was Brandon Wynn, a 2013 and still ring world medalist, four-time USA champion and two-time NCAA champion. Wynn has served as the captain of Team USA and earned 12 international medals.
His nickname is "Lord of the Rings" and invented the gymnastic move called the "Wynn."
He talked about his journey in gymnastics.
"I think that a lot of time inspiration needs to be spread and there’s a lot of value in talking to the little ones," Wynn said before his speech. "It’s really easy to see the top and know where you start but it’s easy to get lost in the path a little bit."
Wynn started gymnastics when he was 7.
"When I started this sport, I started for fun. Gymnastics was the biggest jungle gym that I could find," he said.
As he got older he focused more on accolades and said everything has come full circle because he encourages other gymnasts to just go out and have fun, like when he was a kid.
Gymnastics has given Wynn three invaluable things, he said, his three best friends, a coach who is like a parent to him and "the recognition of the dedication of others and their contributions to my dream."
After more recognitions and a closing prayer the gymnasts enjoyed bounce houses, food and more music.
The competition started Friday and runs through today at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center.
Liberty’s level one gymnasts Sophia Hool and Delaycia Fleming were set to compete Friday, and Xcel Silver gymnasts Sania Williams, Erica Mock, Victoria Johnson, Ayanna Scott, Lyric Wilson and Maggie Horton on Saturday.
Check back with the Coastal Courier on the results of the competition.