SPEARFISH — Spearfish Gymnastics Academy can claim to be the only South Dakota venue that has run a virtual gymnastics meet.
A recent test event at the 29th-Street facility featured roughly 20 athletes. Eight represented Spearfish, with others from Sioux Falls and Watertown.
Six Level 6 gymnasts represented Spearfish, as did two others in Level 5.
Gymnasts performed their routines in a virtual setting, with online judges giving critiques. Spectators were not allowed to attend, but parents could watch the event by logging in to Zoom.
“I think they had fun with it,” Spearfish coach Lexie Cathcart said in describing the gymnasts’ thoughts. “It was definitely different than being in front of a crowd at a real competition.”
Cathcart said it was quite comfortable for the athletes to compete in their home gym. The event was quieter and more closed off than would usually be the case.
Cathcart said COVID-19 restrictions largely try to limit large crowds.
One of the things gymnasts missed was traditional contact with athletes from other clubs. Cathcart said the excitement of being in a large venue was also missing.
“Most of the meets that we go to are in large convention centers or arenas,” Cathcart said. “It kind of takes away the specialness of traveling to a new city and seeing a big venue.”
Cathcart explained how setting up a virtual competition requires a considerable amount of work.
Spearfish used the Zoom platform. Early steps were to ensure everyone had an adequate iPad or GoPro camera for good video quality.
Cathcart met with other clubs’ coaches to make sure cameras were set up properly for the judges. Zoom meetings were set up and organized.
A space in the meeting was set up where athletes could warm up. Another space allowed judges to log on and communicate with the clubs.
“Once it actually got running, it went pretty smooth for our first time,” Cathcart said.
Setup challenges centered on the limited gym space in Spearfish. Balance beams and uneven bar equipment had to be moved so the camera had the best possible view.
Although meets are going the visual route, the Spearfish academy is mostly able to keep conducting practice sessions. Modifications include keeping the lobby closed so people are not watching: all to reduce the number of people in the facility at one time.
“We’re slightly restricted on our numbers of classes that we’re running at the same time,” Cathcart said in describing in-gym modifications. That means one class level runs instead of two levels simultaneously.
Cleaning schedules are naturally more stringent than in the pre-pandemic days. Cathcart said mats now receive a daily cleaning as opposed to a weekly cleaning pre-COVID.
Staff members spend a total of six hours per day cleaning everything from floor, to ceiling, and everything touchable in between, according to Cathcart. That compared to two hours daily pre-COVID.
Spearfish is planning for a larger-scale virtual event Dec. 5-6 at Spearfish Gymnastics Academy. Almost 100 athletes from South Dakota, Nebraska, and Massachusetts clubs are anticipated.
No spectators will be allowed at the Spearfish facility. However, they may log on to the “Fans Cam” link to watch the performances. A planned screen will allow Spearfish athletes to watch others compete.
Cathcart said the December event will be separated into “breakout rooms.” Each event (vault, floor exercises, balance beam, uneven bars) will have its own room. Judges will interact only with athletes in that particular event so background noise will be reduced.
Plans are also in the works for a virtual awards ceremony. Each gym will set up its own stand so athletes will be recognized for their placings. Certificates will be mailed out.
Call Spearfish Gymnastics Academy at 641-8303 for more information.
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