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Tumbling tots

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Lauren Mitchell jumps on one of the trampolines at the Connersville Gymnastics Center during Toddler Open Gym time on Tuesday, May 28. Mitchell is one of several local youths that take advantage of the gym, available to toddlers each Tuesday morning.
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Local youths participate in an activity with Marissa Steele, left, at the Connersville Gymnastics Center. Steele assists with the class of ‘students’ whose numbers can reach as high as 10 at the Toddler Open Gym.
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Mila McKinney plays peek-a-boo, after crawling through an obstacle at the Connersville Gymnastics Center, during Toddler Open Gym on Tuesday, May 28.

By GRADY TATE - gtate@newsexaminer.com

Each Tuesday morning, the Connersville Gymnastics Center is taken over by very young gymnasts, each of them running, jumping, twisting and flipping as best they can.

Anyone wishing to stop by and check it out for themselves should be warned, however.

You’ll probably be bombarded with an overload of cuteness.

Ranging in ages up to 4 years old, participants in the Toddler Open Gym aren’t old enough to attend school, yet. In fact, some of them aren’t even close.

“We’ve had some kids that are 1-2 years old, though I will say that we don’t have many of them too often,” Joann Borders, owner of the Connersville Gymnastics Center, said.

Borders says that she’s run the program for nearly a year and-a-half, and isn’t ashamed to admit that she got the idea from another gymnasium.

“I was visiting a gym during a snowy day in Indianapolis, and I saw about 40 small children running around,” she said. “I wondered what they were all doing there, so I looked into it.”

Once she discovered the answer to her question, it didn’t take her long at all to realize that there would be several advantages that a similar program would offer local kids in Connersville and the surrounding area.

“I’ve learned that parents really want a place for their small children to do something, and there are so many benefits for the kids that participate in something like this,” Borders said.

With very few athletic opportunities available for children during the pre-school years, Borders and program assistant Marissa Steele find themselves filling that gap, giving the youngsters a reason to remove themselves from the front of a television and to get moving.

A Presidential Fitness Award coordinator at St. Gabriel’s Elementary School in Connersville, Borders says that, though the open gym program at CGC is still very young, she has noticed some of the benefits beginning to pay off.

“For the most part, there is a core group of kids that are here each week,” Borders said. “We have some that come in for a short time, and then they are gone.

“But one thing that you can see with the kids that have joined the program and have remained involved, they are quicker, stronger and faster,” she added. “That has a lot to do with the things that we do in the open gym.”

Activities during the one-hour class include work on the mats, stretching, swinging, trampoline work and even a little dancing.

“One of our main focuses is to get the kids familiar with the gymnasium and some of the equipment,” Borders said. “The other priority is to give them the opportunity to become stronger, doing whatever we can to keep it fun for them.

It appears that the “keeping it fun” thing is helping not only them, but their parents to remain interested in the program.

“Originally, we were planning on taking July off and then restarting it again in August,” Borders said. “But recently, I have had several parents approach me and tell me that they wanted me to keep in going in July as well.

“So, I guess it’s going to be a year-round thing now.”

In addition to the obvious physical and mental benefits that the program offers the toddlers, Borders notes that there is added bonus for the kids that show up for the weekly get-together.

“A lot of friendships are made in the class, as the kids really connect with one another,” she said. “Some of these friendships could last a lifetime.”

For Borders, the benefit is watching the kids grow in the class.

“Just to see them learning is really the best thing for me,” she said.

Spots in the class are still available. Anyone interested in getting involved with the program should contact Borders at the Connersville Gymnastics Center. The number is 765-825-2297.