The first trampoline and tumbling team ever in Georgia, Johns Creek’s Stingrays have been at the forefront of this emerging sport within the southeast and had their best-ever finish on a national stage, earning four team awards and six individual championship titles at the United States Trampoline and Tumbling Association’s National Championships in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from June 18 to 22.
The Stingrays finished second in the sub-advanced boys trampoline and sub-advanced boys double mini trampoline along with third-place finishes in the sub-advanced girls trampoline and elite boys double mini-trampoline.
The squad also had individual national champions, including Nicole Shifrin, girls’ 17-plus sub-advanced tumbling, Audrey Smith, girls’ 15 to 16 intermediate trampoline and Jack Grimsley, boys’ 11 to 12 sub-novice tumbling. Will Simon won three individual titles in boys’ 9 to 10 sub-advanced trampoline, boys’ 9 to 10 sub-advance tumbling and boys’ 9 to 10 sub-advanced double mini-trampoline divisions.
“This was our best finish ever on a national level,” said Jim Dowling, founder and head instructor of the Stingrays. “Our finish has brought us a lot of publicity and people are becoming more aware of the sport.”
Dowling became introduced to trampoline and tumbling in 1995 while residing in Florida after having a collegiate gymnastics career at Indiana University. After a work transfer brought him to Georgia in 2009 and subsequent dismissal from the corporate position, Dowling decided to start Georgia’s first certified USTA trampoline and tumbling program. Though an agreement with the All-Star Panther Cheerleading organization in Johns Creek, Dowling was able to find a training facility and equipment to start the program which has now grown to more than 100 children in recreational classes and nearly 25 within the competitive team.
“The adults wish they knew about this sport when they were younger because it’s been around for decades,” stated Dowling. “I would have loved to have been doing something like this when I was a kid.”
Residents from the entire Johns Creek area, including Alpharetta, Roswell and Milton, have converged into the Stingrays’ facility to participate in the unique endeavor. Gymnasts as young as seven-years-old to practitioners in their mid to late 20’s each find benefits within the sport.
“The sport is similar to gymnastics in relation to scoring,” said Dowling. “However, cheerleaders also like it because there aren’t limits in power tumbling unlike cheerleading events or even gymnastics itself. Our floor is designed for safety and it’s good for retired gymnasts because it’s easier on the body.” Each Stingray gymnast practices about eight hours a week, which is standard for Trampoline and Tumbling but less than traditional gymnasts.
The progression of a sport usually leads to its inclusion into international competition and trampoline isn’t an exception as it debuted as an Olympic sport in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia and power tumbling has been proposed to begin in 2016 when the Olympic Games are held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
A new program through USTA will offer athletes the chance to represent their colleges at the National Championships next year while training at a local gym. Shifrin plans to be the first University of Georgia athlete to represent the Bulldogs at that time.
“I appreciate the spot because there’s a culture of excellence and kindness,” stated Carol Smith, whose daughter Audrey is a prominent member of the Stingrays. “The kids learn about being good sportsmen and how to push themselves. My daughter has enjoyed the friendships as much as the training and developed in many ways beyond athletically, including the ability to lead.”