It's a lesson in purity.
In a high-pressure sports world where results often mean everything, standing matside at the uneven bars inside the Cox Convention Center on Friday was a reminder of why we play. The youngest of the competitors at the 2013 Nadia Comaneci Invitational, a gymnastics competition as part of a three-day showcase, lined up for their chance at glory with mom and dad in the stands.
The 6-year-olds, with the help of a coach, swung from the bars with exuberance.
In this stage of gymnastics, success is often judged more by smiles than points. It's all about pure enjoyment — unless you're Bob Childers.
Childers is one of many judges at the gymnastics invitational this weekend with the task of judging athletes who are still learning how to read. It's his job to break down the performances and deduct points when necessary, in what can sometimes be a difficult position.
As Lisa Cavanaugh, president of the Oklahoma gymnastics judges, puts it: “Everybody wants to give cute points, right?”
“It's a hard thing to do, but you smile a lot,” Cavanaugh said. “But the rules are the same however old they are. There's not a lot of wiggle room.”
If the young girls at Friday's event are to continue competitive gymnastics, the experience of competing in a judged event will help them down the road. But just as any other youth sport that relies on officiating; it can be an inexact science.
What happens when the angry parent of a kindergartner believes his or her daughter got judged incorrectly? Cavanaugh chuckled. She's glad there's a good system in place to handle scoring discrepancies.
“There are a lot of controls,” Cavanaugh said. “The judges do their best, but the coaches are the middle men. Mom or dad doesn't ever come to me. It goes to the coaches and they have one of two things to do; explain what happened or check with the judges.”
Childers, a gymnastics judge of 15 years and a coach of 35 years, said things ran smoothly on Friday as he watched the 6-year-olds on the uneven bars. But he understands there are more important things than high scores at events like this.
“We're not all going to be Olympians, they only want eight,” Childers said. “But these gymnasts are going to be able to get their life in order. They're going to be able to be organized. The benefits are going to be great.”
Those benefits include staying out of trouble, help with self-esteem and how to bounce back from adversity. So sure, Childers has a tough job. But most days it's more rewarding than a perfect 10.
“Rather than playing with Cheerios, they're practicing routines, staying on music and having expectations and requirements,” Childers said. “As you learn, your skill level increases. That's what it's all about.”
The event continues Saturday with the kickoff of the Bart and Nadia Sports & Health Festival at the Cox Convention Center from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The festival focuses on engaging families in healthy activity through Olympic, Paralympic and Special Olympic events. For ticket information, visit www. bartandnadiafestival.com.