Flying, flipping and tumbling girls with their eyes on a top score have invaded Southaven this weekend for the Blues and BBQ Gymnastics Invitational.

The Landers Center area was crowded with young ladies from all over the mid-south region. They were armed with taped ankles, chalky hands, sequins and a smile to win over scoring judges posted on the arena floor. Sessions are scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 

Competitors displayed multiple talents one the balance beams, uneven bars, vaulting from a springboard and even freestyle gymnastics.

Natalie Sisk from Cordova was watching the competition Saturday morning. Her daughter Hannah, 13, was volunteering to help with operations after having competed on Friday. Hannah is an XL Platinum level gymnast.

“The competitors come from eight different regions, eight different states,” Sisk said. “This year is Hannah’s fifth year competing. She started off doing dance then fell in love with doing gymnastics. She kind of taught herself at home. She couldn't do a whole lot because we didn’t have the equipment at home.”

Hannah, a member of Believe Gymnastics in Cordova, Tennessee, taught herself floor techniques and other basic beginner gymnastics. She eventually joined a gym and quickly moved through the levels of classes because of her initial teachings.

“Then they said let’s just get her on a competitive team,” said Sisk. “She fell in love with it, takes it seriously and has lots of fun.”

Hannah and her team won second place yesterday overall in platinum level. However, the road to regular competitions is often marked with early mornings, driving and for Hannah to re-enforce her motivations for doing it. 

“If she wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and she’s had a terrible practice, it’s all ‘woe is me,’” Sisk said. “Then we just tell her ‘Have a snack, take a rest, and we’ll reevaluate later.’”

That regiment usually cures what ails Hannah. Sisk hopes her daughter continues with gymnastics through college. 

Another young gymnast, Paige Zimmerli, 10, of Picayune, MS, competed on the balance beam with her team. She and her teammates placed second in beam and ninth all around on Saturday. 

“I think I did pretty good today,” Zimmerli said. “My floor was way better than last year. I like doing it with my teammates and our coach Miss Cynthia.”

Zimmerli, the daughter of Nikki and Danny Zimmerlie, said the balance beam was her best event to compete and her strongest skill set.

“It’s sort of really easy for me,” Zimmerli said. “I practice a lot, at home even with my balance beam or on our trampoline, it’s really fun.”

Coach for the ETC Gymnastic Team from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Andrea Hurlburt, brought her competitors to their first meet of their season Saturday.

“Everybody was excited coming here with a little bit of nerves,” Hurlburt said. “Everybody is handling it OK. This is the first time we’ve attended this particular meet. We’ve really been having a good time.”

Hurlburt says easing nervous gymnasts is part of her coaching before a meet.

“I usually would just remind them, ‘Hey, you’ve done this a million times in the gym,’ and we always use these cue words. We tell them to think about how to use their arms in a certain way or make sure their hips are square when stretching backwards. Just reminding them of the small things.”

As Hurlburt says, “Telling them to ‘stay on’ never works.”

Many competitors, like ETC, hold aspirations for college level competitions and even professional or Olympic level competitions.

“At our gym we do elite gymnastics, one of the athletes has goals of making the national team,” Hurlburt said. “These girls are hoping for college gymnastics but also just enjoying the sport.”

The competitions continue at the Landers Center tonight until 7 p.m. and through tomorrow. Find more information at https://bbqinvite.com/information.

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