PLANT CITY – Months of practice will be put to the test starting Thursday for young gymnasts Alessandra “Alex” Cappucci and Kelsey Slone.
The two area youngsters will be among 1,800 gymnasts from around the country who will compete for trophies at the 2014 YMCA National Gymnastics Competition in Tampa.
Alex, a 9-year-old Dover resident and rising fourth-grader at Winthrop Charter School, and Kelsey, a 10-year-old Plant City resident and rising fifth-grader at Lewis Elementary School, say they are both eager to compete in the three-day tournament.
Kelsey admits she’s a bit nervous about bars portion of the competition.
“Usually I get a little nervous. That’s not my favorite,” she said.
Alex and Kelsey are part of a 20-member gym team from the North Brandon Family YMCA. The Y at 3097 S. Kingsway Road is one of only two in Hillsborough County that has a gym program.
This will be the first time ever that the gym team will compete in nationals, said Tyna Papillon, gymnastics director for the North Brandon Y. The competitions are often out of state, and travel to those venues has been too expensive, Papillon said.
The 2013 contest was in Savannah, Ga.
But this year’s competition, Thursday through Saturday, is at the Tampa Convention Center. The Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA is serving as host for the games.
About 100 teams from 23 states are expected to take part.
Papillon said the North Brandon team members realized that this was their year to participate since the venue was so close to home.
“The kids and their parents have been looking forward to it all year long. They have worked hard to earn the right to compete.”
Each team member had to score at least 32 on a 40-point scale to win a spot in the national competition, Papillon said. The competition is open to both male and female gymnasts 5 to 18, although all of the North Brandon team members are girls aged 7 to 14.
The squad includes girls from Brandon, Seffner and other parts of East Hillsborough County, Papillon said.
Participants compete for top honors in bars, team, vault and floor.
The gym season runs from Aug. 1 through July and includes about six YMCA and Amateur Athletic Union competitions per year, she said.
Papillon has been practicing her team 9 to 12 hours a week. She is helped by fellow YMCA staff members Victoria Schepisi, who is the team’s head coach, and Jonathan Primus, who works with the team on conditioning.
Kelsey’s mother, Tiffany, said her daughter has been in gymnastics for two years and is looking forward to her time on the national stage.
“She’s been working very, very hard,” Tiffany Slone said. “She’s really super excited about the opportunity.”