Perrysburg’s Chelsea Williams hopes a home gym advantage helps her stand out among 1,725 gymnasts that will be flipping and tumbling at a national tournament this week.
Williams will not have to travel far to compete in the YMCA National Gymnastics Championships that will take place Thursday through Saturday at the SeaGate Centre.
The event is expected to bring an estimated 8,000 visitors to downtown Toledo. Competitors from 18 states and 99 YMCA branches had to qualify for the national meet. They range in age from 5 to 18 and vary in skill level.
Williams has participated at the national event the last six years. She placed fourth in all around when it was held in San Diego last year. Her highest finish is second in the vault two years ago.
“We have the home court advantage,” Williams said. “It’s our hometown and we have to step up and show what we can do.”
The YMCA and JCC of Greater Toledo will be hosting the national meet for the fourth time. This year is the 46th annual national tournament.
“It has taken a lot of hours and a lot of amazing volunteers,” said Casey Koenig, the gymnastics director of the local YMCA. “This is the culmination of the season for YMCA gymnasts from across the country.”
Koenig, who has been with the YMCA of Greater Toledo for more than 30 years, said the national event is special.
“I think it’s always fun to see this sport in person,” she said. “It’s one thing to watch it on TV and it’s another thing to see it person. You’ll see a wide array of gymnastics — from entry level to the highest level. There will be four gyms competing at the same time.”
Destination Toledo Inc., Lucas County’s lead tourism agency, estimates that the total economic impact for the region could amount to over $6.5 million.
“Our hotels, restaurants, attractions, and retail outlets will certainly see activity from these competitors, their coaches, and families,” said Richard Nachazel, president of Destination Toledo. “It is exciting to be host to a group of this magnitude.”
The event kicks off on Wednesday at the Mud Hens’ game with an Olympic-style opening ceremonies at Fifth Third Field at 3:30 p.m. The 1,725 gymnasts will march in to the stadium prior to the baseball game.
“The Mud Hens have been phenomenal,” said Karla Coburn, one of the event organizers. “They pulled out all the stops. We’ll have a gymnast throw out the first pitch and we’ll have one singing the National Anthem.”
Coburn said the gymnasts will then attempt to break a Guinness Book of World Records feat for longest group handstand.
“The current record is 399 people,” she said. “They’ll have to hold it for 15 seconds and they can’t walk.”
More than 5,000 people are expected for the opening ceremonies, which will include fireworks and a street fair
The gymnastics meet will then begin on Thursday and Koenig said she believes Williams has a shot at winning the all around in the event’s highest level.
“I don’t want to jinx it,” Koenig said. “But she has a lot of natural ability and she has great air awareness. For her gymnastics is just fun and she throws herself into it.”
Williams, who has been doing gymnastics since she was 2, hopes to earn a college scholarship. A senior this fall, she is optimistic that her skills will be recognized by scouts and college coaches at the national championship. Bowling Green State University and Eastern Michigan University have already expressed interest.
“They hope to get recognized,” Coburn said. “But we’re also doing it with the Y philosophy to build strong communities with good values. These girls compete to have a fun time.”
In March at the state high school meet, Williams took fourth place in the all-around. She also was second on the vault, third on the bars, and sixth on the floor.
Williams credited the YMCA for giving her a place to “put in more hours to train.”
Former Maumee resident Jenny Koeppel is the only local gymnast to win the highest level in all around at the national championship. Koeppel won her title in 1992 when it was held for the first time in Toledo. It was also held here in 1996 and 2001.
Koeppel, who now lives in Toledo, will present the medals at this year’s event.
“These gymnasts have worked extremely hard to both qualify and prepare for this momentous occasion,” Coburn said.
Koenig said she has 110 female competitors and about 20 males at the YMCA gym located in Perrysburg.
Three local sisters will be competing in the event. Cassie Frantz, an eighth grader at Springfield Middle School will be joined by her sisters Kaylynn Frantz, a sixth grader at Springfield Middle School, and Kara Frantz a third grader at Holloway Elementary School.
“There will be a variety of skill levels,” Coburn said.
On Thursday and Friday, the competition begins at 8:45 a.m. and the last session starts at 5:45.
The finals start at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, followed by closing ceremonies. Ticket prices vary. For more information go to www.2011ymcanationals.org.
“I’ll have all my friends and family there,” Williams said. “We are all really excited to host it. We’ve put in a lot of work and we hope it pays off.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6354.