| 2015 Q2 | story by ANNE BROCKHOFF | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |
Mention tumbling, trampolines or cheerleading to most parents, and they know exactly what you mean. Unless you’re talking about those activities at G-Force Athletics in north Lawrence, that is.
There, tumbling is a power sport, the Olympic-style trampolines can propel experts within reach of the gym’s 26-foot ceiling and athletes travel with four competitive All Star cheer teams. G-Force has recreational programs, too, but educating Lawrence residents about the many options is challenging, says co-owner Hallie Godfrey.
“That’s one struggle,” Godfrey says, who cheered at Fort Hays State University and the University of Kansas and shares ownership in G-Force with Jimmy Godfrey, her husband and head coach for KU’s Spirit Squad; Gail Kiefer and Michelle Leeker. “The lack of knowledge in the community is something we’re working on.”
That’s not surprising, considering that only about six percent of the 102,205 gymnasts who compete with USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body, do trampoline and tumbling, and All Star cheer is still often confused with school-sanctioned, non-competitive cheerleading.
But interest is growing. G-Force, which opened in 2004, drew almost 200 students from Lawrence, Topeka, Tonganoxie, Eudora, Basehor, Kansas City and Manhattan during the 2014-15 school year. Things slow in the summer, but G-Force still offers a range of classes at its Lawrence and Topeka locations.
Competitive cheer combines elements of gymnastic tumbling, dance, acrobatics and traditional cheerleading into a 2-1/2 minute musical routine, according to the U.S. All Star Federation. There’s also a prep cheer squad, which showcases similar skills but only practices part of the year.
Power tumbling is performed on an elevated spring runway that helps tumblers propel themselves forward while executing acrobatic maneuvers, according to the USA Gymnastics website. Trampoline, which made its Olympic debut in 2000 at the Sydney games, demonstrates speed and skill, while the double-mini combines trampoline with tumbling. It begins with a vault-like approach run, and competitors then perform skills on a two-level trampoline before dismounting.
“That one is really hard,” Godfrey says.
The National Acrobat Competition team is less demanding, with just one hour of practice a week. It combines power tumbling and dance, allowing kids to demonstrate age-level skills ranging from rolls and backbends (preschool level) to back handsprings (intermediate) and back flips (advanced).
“NAC is our stepping stone where kids get involved and see if they like the competitive side,” Godfrey says.
Kids who do participate in G-Force’s programs benefit in specific ways she says, and better health is just part of it.
“Gymnastics not only increases strength, grace and flexibility, but also encourages hard work, discipline and determination,” USA Gymnastic’s parent guide states. All of that, Godfrey says, adds up to better self-confidence.
“That comes with any sport,” she says. “It comes from seeing the progress in their skills.”
G-Force often hires its more advanced athletes as student instructors, giving them valuable work experience and putting them on the path to become coaches themselves. Many of its students have also received power tumbling and cheer scholarships and have competed at the college level.
Hers is a niche business, Godfrey admits, but it still adds to the local economy by creating jobs and boosting revenue.
“A lot of time, parents drop off kids and then go do their grocery shopping, or go downtown on Mass,” she says. “Sometimes I think we keep Sonic in business!”