Some local faces were among the 12,000 gymnasts at the “Most Magical Place on Earth” last month.
Six athletes from Seymour’s Gymnastics Lane recently made a trip to Orlando, Florida, to compete in the Presidential Classic at Walt Disney World, which is a part of the Nastia Liukin Cup.
The four-day meet, which included gymnasts from 29 states and 13 different countries, was Feb. 15 through 18 at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex.
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It was the first time that Gymnastics Lane owner/coach Angie Mellencamp and her staff had ever brought a group to the meet.
“To be invited to the presidential, you have to be a member of USA Gymnastics,” Mellencamp said. “They set the rules and the guidelines for each routine. Basically, the kids have to be able to competently and independently complete their routines on all four events — or for all six events for boys — to a mastery level. Our kids compete in other USAG meets here in Indiana, and their scores reflected that they have everything down to be able to go down.”
Mellencamp said it was a good experience for her kids to compete in an unfamiliar setting.
“We had kids medal in almost every session,” she said. “Everyone came home with hardware. It was just a good experience to see what else is going on in this sport. One of the sessions we rotated with, there was a team from Brazil, and the kids got wide-eyed when the coaches started correcting their kids in Portuguese. We also rotated with a team from Jamaica. No matter what country we met while we were down there, they were doing the exact same skills to the exact same level that we were.”
All of the competitors placed in the all-around competition, and four placed in individual events.
Sophie Ruddick, 9, and Delaney Hamm, 8, both competed in the gold session. Ruddick’s best score was a 9.5 on the floor, which was third place, and Hamm tied for fourth on the parallel bars with a 8.950.
“It was super-exciting and kind of nerve-racking,” Ruddick said. “There were a lot of cool things to see and do. It was really cool to go with my teammates.”
Hamm said it was really fun and exciting.
“I had never been to a competition that big,” she said. “I loved competing and seeing all of the characters. I think I did well on the floor and vault. I felt like I got to show off my personality.”
Riley VonDielingen, 8, had her best score (9.125) on the bars in the bronze session.
“When we first got there, it was all packed,” VonDielingen said. “It was the biggest I’ve been to. There was stuff everywhere. There were loads of people.”
Kinley Bear, 5, qualified for the bronze session but was unable to attend.
Owen Bartsch, 10, was Gymnastics Lane’s only boy at the meet. His score of 7.6 tied for sixth on the pommel horse for Level 6 boys.
“It was a cool thing to do,” Bartsch said. “There aren’t many opportunities to do these kinds of things. It’s one of the biggest meets I have been to. It was fun and a good experience.”
Mellencamp said she started a boys program about three years ago, and while she has around 30 total boys gymnasts, Bartsch is the only one currently competing in USAG events.
Grace Lewis, 14, took eighth on the floor with an 8.9 in platinum competition.
“My favorite part was getting to see the other gyms from all around the nation and some from out of the country,” Lewis said. “There were a lot of good gymnasts there. At first, it was really scary because it was a big gym. But after a while, it became more fun. Everyone was really welcoming.”
Lillie Cote, 14, took 10th in both the bars (7.25) and floor (8.9).
“It was a good experience. It was eye-opening,” Cote said. “The judging was a lot different than how it is in Indiana. I am actually going down in a couple months to compete again. It was very exciting to tell my friends at school and teachers that I got to go with this group and compete.”
Mellencamp said Cote, who regularly scored for Seymour High School’s gymnastics team this past winter, is a great leader for the younger kids.
“Lillie has been in here more than any other high-schoolers because she has done club for so long,” Mellencamp said. “All these kids look up to her. She came and watched those kids at the meet … and she’s at Disney. She didn’t have to do that. She could have gone to the parks, but she went and watched the kids. She is a role model in the gym.”
The gymnasts will compete in the state club meet this weekend. Mellencamp said she’s bringing 32 kids to the event in Fort Wayne, which is a qualifier for next week’s regional in Kentucky.
Mellencamp hopes to bring a bigger group to Disney in 2020.
“The meet director was wonderful, and the judges were great,” Mellencamp said. “I’m hoping to take twice as many kids next year.”