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Area gymnastics team weathers pandemic

The Windsor Gymnastics XCEL Team is looking to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and continue — in a more normal manner — its work of helping young gymnasts mature by cultivating discipline, focus, dedication and composure.

The 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons have been unusual ones for the team, and its nonprofit parent organization, the Windsor Gymnastics Association.

Opportunities for meets and fundraisers have been scarce due to the impact of the coronavirus, and the team and WGA, like so many businesses, have been significantly impacted.

“We have a much smaller group of girls this year, so we’re trying to keep our fundraisers small and accessible to people just to kind of help raise some funds but not overwhelm people with always trying to sell them things,” WGA President Alisha Graney said.

The XCEL team is currently composed of nine girls, ranging in age from around 9 to 14.

“Unfortunately, due to COVID, we lost about half of our team,” she said. “Some of the girls just didn’t come back. When everything was forced to shut down for three months, some of them came back and it was hard again, and they didn’t want to do it or they wanted to try new things as they moved into high school. So we went from having about 20, 22 girls to nine girls, unfortunately, after this whole COVID stuff.”

The complete, three-month shutdown came at the beginning of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Graney said the Windsor squad was able to do three meets in the 2019-20 season before COVID hit.

She said one of the team’s girls was actually supposed to be competing in a meet the weekend the shutdown began, with she and her family getting ready to go down to the Carolinas for it.

“And they got the call saying, ‘It’s shut down.’ They literally pulled gymnasts off the equipment and said, ‘We were told to shut down,’” Graney said. “And the two or three meets after that were canceled. They did not get refunded for the meet that was canceled that weekend. We only got partial refunds back from the gyms for the meets that were scheduled the latter half of that year.”

Graney said the goal is generally for the Windsor team to have five or six meets per season, but during the 2020-21 season, there were few allowed. She said that when they did start to become allowed, they were all virtual.

Virtual meets included only the girls and their fellow competitors in a gym. Parents could not go in and watch.

“Basically we had to drop them off at the gym, parents had to sit in their cars for two or three hours,” Graney said. “They had to watch through a Zoom link or a CCTV link if they wanted to try to watch their girl compete.”

She added that gymnasts did not even get their final scores until the end of the weekend because the judges had to go to other places and monitor other gyms.

“So instead of going to one place, having everybody do their thing and knowing what place you got that day, they had to wait an entire weekend, a few days before they even knew what ranking they had,” Graney said.

She noted that only three girls from the Windsor team were ready to compete and willing to pay the money to do so, knowing that their parents were not going to be able to come in and watch.

“Karli (Woody) did three meets, including state, and Josie (Griffin) and Addison (Callow) did two meets, including state, and they all did really, really, really well for the meets that they attended,” Graney said. “But it’s been a very different year. There were no crowds cheering them on, no Mom and Dad in the audience for them to look at and show how proud they were that they got a great score on something.

“It’s just been really weird, and we’re hoping that this next season coming up … things are a little bit back to normal.”

While usually the Windsor Gymnastics XCEL Team will hold two to three fundraisers a season, Graney said she is hoping to possibly do a couple extra this coming season.

“We just finished a 50/50 raffle where the girls sold raffle tickets, and the winner would get to take home half of whatever they raised,” she said, noting that the father of a team member actually won it. “He told the girls just to keep all of it. They raised about $1,100, so he let them have the $500 back.”

Graney said the team is getting ready to start a Krispy Kreme fundraiser, which it has not done in a few years.

The team is also hoping its GoFundMe campaign will gain traction. It can be found by searching for Windsor Gymnastics XCEL Team Leotard Fundraiser on GoFundMe.com.

Graney explained where the money goes that is donated.

“We’re a nonprofit, so 100% of any money we raise is split evenly between all the girls on the team,” she said.

One thing they can do with the money is pay for competition leotards, which cost around $200 on the low end.

“They will wear those for two years,” Graney said. “So every two years, we have to get a new competition leotard, because by then, girls have outgrown them, they’re worn out, it’s time for a new one.”

The girls can also use the money for warm-up gear that is required, and they also use the money to enter meets, fees for which can range anywhere from $90 to $110 or $120, depending on the meet.

While the Windsor team tries to participate in five or six meets a season, all of the members cannot always do that. Team officials encourage the girls to attend at least three meets.

“I know some of the girls would love to do more, but it’s the money issue,” Graney said. “For some parents, that’s hard when you’re having to pay out $100 every month on things. And that’s on top of their paying their tuition fees to the gym. We have to pay for the coach’s time. When he goes to a meet, we get paid out of a fund that we put into twice a year during the season. So it’s a big monetary commitment.”

But Graney spoke to the value of the experience for the girls that participate.

“They learn about dedication, focus,” she said. “They have to learn to (have) respect for their fellow athletes, for their coaches, for judges.”

They also learn the value of hard work.

“It is a lot of discipline, both mental and physical, because they come out here and they work hard,” Graney said, the “here” being a reference to the Windsor Gymnastics Training Center at 37 W. Windsor Blvd. “They do three-and-a-half hours twice a week for practices, and once things kind of get going in full swing, we’ll actually add a third day to that for the three-and-a-half hours.”

The girls also learn composure.

“I know I’ve seen a lot of growth in my daughter just in maturity and learning how to handle disappointment and how to handle failure,” Graney said. “She doesn’t break down anymore. She gets upset, but she knows that she just has to come back and try again, that she’ll succeed if she puts the effort into it.”

For more information on the team, send an email to wga.xcel@gmail.com and visit the Facebook page for Windsor Gymnastics Association.