Beyond gymnasticsAs part of a newly established annual community service project, the Woodbury gymnastics team welcomed children from the Valley Friendship Club to Woodbury High School on Friday, Feb. 4, to show the kids some basics and, more importantly, have some fun.
By: Patrick Johnson, Staff Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
Coaches often talk about how building better individuals and teaching life lessons is ultimately more important than winning or losing.
A perfect example of that philosophy took place recently at Woodbury High School.
As part of a newly established annual community service project, the Woodbury gymnastics team welcomed children from the Valley Friendship Club to Woodbury High School on Friday, Feb. 4, to show the kids some basics and, more importantly, have some fun.
“It teaches the girls that there is more to the world beyond gymnastics, it’s about helping other people and your community,” Woodbury head coach Julie Dornseif said. “It teaches them to be a good adult and about the real world. Our gymnasts love working with little kids.”
The Valley Friendship Club — which is based in Stillwater — helps children, teens and young adults with and without disabilities make friends, gain skills and be proud of who they are. In the club’s first six months it has hosted 25 events with over 400 attending.
“The kids needed an opportunity to grow and have a social life,” said Susan Kane, one of the three founders of the Valley Friendship Club. “It’s been amazing how much we’ve been embraced by the community. There is a huge, huge need. It’s been very fun and energizing.”
The vision of the Valley Friendship Club is to create the opportunity for every person, with and without a developmental and/or intellectual disability, to build enduring friendships with a mission of promoting and providing safe accessible social opportunities while fostering friendships. In the end, it is the Valley Friendship Club’s aim to enhance community connections, empower club participants to strengthen important life skills and create greater social independence.
“What we’re hoping the club does is to break the special-needs bubble and allow for connections to happen, so that they can be working, social citizens as well,” said Kane, who has a special-needs child. “We want to make it all-inclusive and fun for everybody. We hope that when friendships typically start falling off for children with special needs that our programs will help keep them going and that it will help their lives exponentially into the future.”
For around two hours, the kids from Valley Friendship Club worked with the Royals gymnasts. The day began with a warm-up on the gymnastics floor, then the kids ran through an obstacle course, played with a parachute and spent time with the Woodbury gymnasts in groups at stations on the bars, the beam, the vault and the floor.
“We’re giving back to the community and it’s a great thing for kids with disabilities to know that there are programs out there that we can offer,” Dornseif said. “We want to show our appreciation to the community for supporting us as a high school team.”
For almost a decade, South Washington County Community Education has been holding a variety of gymnastics programs, lessons and parties at East Ridge, Woodbury and Park high schools. The programs are led by the coaching staffs from Park, Woodbury and East Ridge high schools with instruction from current and former District 833 high school gymnasts.
One of the programs is an “exceptional class” for kids with special needs. While an assistant coach at Park High School, Dornseif worked with the “exceptional” program and hopes to bring it, and others, to Woodbury.
“We want to give the kids that opportunity if they want to,” she said. “I think it’s great for kids. It’s good exercise and they have fun doing it. If there’s enough interest we’d definitely start a class.”
Gymnastics is currently an event in the Special Olympics and has been since 1972.
In the Special Olympics gymnastics competition, women compete in up to four artistic or rhythmic events while men can compete in as many as three artistic events. Athletes are grouped in divisions according to their ability level, age and gender. Advanced athletes can participate in the all-around competition. Men and women must compete in every event to be automatically qualified for the all-around. Over 44 countries worldwide offer Special Olympics gymnastic programs.
“The kids love doing gymnastics,” Dornseif said. “We see these kids and their faces light up. I have parents come up to me every class thanking us for offering the classes, because their kids love gymnastics. I think by doing this, the kids with disabilities learn they can do things just like kids without disabilities — and they have a great time.”
For more information on the Valley Friendship Club visit www.valleyfriendshipclub.org.
See the Feb. 9 issue of the Bulletin for more photos