Utica – Thousands of youngsters have competed in the Leatherstocking Gymnastics Meets since it began in 1987. This weekend saw the 30th anniversary of the event and hundreds of young gymnasts from all over New York came to Mohawk Valley Community College to compete.
“I like the vault (best),” Annemarie Makarchuk said. “It’s fun. I run hard.”
The Vernon 8-year-old was one of 560 kids taking part January 16 and 17 in the spacious new gym at MVCC. Judges gave out scores, parents sold refreshments and spectators from Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Albany, Elmira, Westchester County and other places came to the Mohawk Valley’s best gymnastics meet to cheer on their kids. A great time was had by all.
“I got a 9.40!” Makarchuk said with a smile after her first event.
“I had a 36.85 in the all-around,” New Hartford sophomore Jensen Todd said of her winning effort the first night. “It’s pretty average for me.”
Todd has been a gymnast since she was four and wrapped up her fourth year competing in this meet by posting a terrific score. Todd, 15, has been a member of Valley Gymnastics, the host club run by Danielle Cerminaro, for 11 years. She competes on the private club team and for her high school. She approaches both teams’ competitions with intensity, as evidenced by her qualifying for the state meet all four years she’s been on New Hartford’s varsity team.
“I’m hoping to get my scores up to get to the bigger meets,” Todd said with a determined look.
The Valley club has been to Syracuse for a meet and has road trips to meets as far away as Manhattan and Florida coming up.
“I only do gymnastics,” Todd said. “I’m dedicated (to it). It takes up all my time”
Many of the adults involved have been involved in the sport for a long time, including Phyllis Niemi. The former Rome Free Academy coach used to co-own Valley Gymnastics with Jill Andrews and helped start the Leatherstocking meet.
“The (love of the) sport is all about the kids,” Niemi said during a break from her judging. “Watching the kids develop, and teaching.”
Niemi coached many champions during her time at RFA and the Valley club. Jana Bowen, a coach from the Owego club, has been around almost as long.
“We’ve been coming here, gosh, about 30 years. I love the club that runs (this),” Bowen said between Sunday’s sessions. “The parents organization is phenomenal and MVCC has a lot more seating.”
The spacious seating at MVCC’s beautiful Robert Jorgensen Athletic Center proved to be needed as more than 200 fans were at the Sunday session for the lower level kids.
“It’s exciting, the atmosphere,” Kelsey Twedt of Waverly, said. “This is our first meet.” The young mother was watching her 6-year-old daughter Kaylin compete. “She’s very excited,” the Owego club team’s mom said.
“It’s fun to compete (here),” 10-year-old Lauren Cropp of Vestal added. “There’s a big floor and more than one (uneven) bar.”
Former New Hartford standout Danielle Cerminaro, now the sole owner of Valley Gymnastics, was pleased with the turnout and how things went.
“It’s been excellent,” the 35-year-old said. “It’s probably the smoothest year. We have a great group of parents working it. It’s like a machine.”
Cerminaro recently started a charity, the Valley Kids Care Foundation, and some of the proceeds from the weekend event were dedicated to it. That just made a great day even better, and for a lot of people including the 120 kids in her club.
“It’s been great,” Cerminaro said.