Specialization in sports begins at an early age nowadays and one local gymnastics club is helping its athletes test their skills at the national level.

Three youth gymnasts from Woodstock’s Georgia All-Star Gymnastics will travel to Indianapolis this October to compete in USA Gymnastics TOPs (Talent Opportunity Program) program after qualifying as three of the top 100 gymnasts in the country for their age groups. Anslee McCauley (8), Kennedy Mainella (9) and Isabelle Roberts (9) each qualified for the national testing based on their performances at state testing which took place in June and July of this past summer. Jason Beliveau, team director and co-owner at Georgia All-Star Gymnastics, said it’s always good to see the kid’s hard work pay off.

“It’s very humbling and exciting when it happens, because that’s what we work for,” Beliveau said. “Gymnastics is a year round sport. There’s no down time. It’s like that because it’s so hard and it’s very timing oriented. A lot of body awareness and timing is required and the only way you can get there is to do it year round.”

The TOPs program is a talent search program run by USA Gymnastics and targeted at female gymnasts ages 7-10. Gymnasts are tested at the state and regional levels in events such as handstand holds, press handstands, cast handstands, rope climbs, leg lifts and flexibility kicks. The results are sent to USA Gymnastics and the top 100 gymnasts for each age group are invited to Indianapolis each October to compete nationally with the opportunity of then being invited to TOPs Training Camp in December.

Kim Riley, the managing director of athlete and coaching programs at USA Gymnastics, said the TOPs program is first step of USA Gymnastics’ pipeline.

“This is our 27th year and we have a pretty good history behind this program,” Riley said. “We’re constantly on the hunt for the next Simone Biles and it starts with these programs. Of course, every athlete won’t make the national team but once they get up the pipeline a little further they’re well on their way to a college scholarship.”

Riley said every member of the 2012 national team was TOPs alumni, a group that included Gabby Douglass, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Webber. Riley added that Simone Biles actually never participated in the program because she was unable to qualify.

“I always joke with parents about that,” Riley said. “I tell them, ‘see your kid is already better than Simone was at this age.’”

Georgia All-Star Gymnastics is in its 25th year of existence, and Beliveau said the club currently has about 100 gymnasts and 20 coaches. Notable alumni include Rebekah Bennetts (Sequoyah High School) who walked-on the University of Georgia gymnastics team in 2011, Micole O’Dell (River Ridge High School) who competed on the Iowa State gymnastics team from 2015-16 and Ansley Froman (Etowah High School) who is now a sophomore on the Fairmont State University acrobatics and tumbling team.

According to Riley, over 3,500 gymnasts were tested this summer throughout the country at the state and regional levels. A total of 300 will be tested in October in Indianapolis, where USA Gymnastics is based, by the same coaches who work with the senior national team.

At such a young age, McCauley, Mainella and Roberts are now on the first step of the USA Gymnastics pyramid, but Beliveau said the culture within the local club is what makes him most proud.

“I’ve been involved in the sport of gymnastics since 2002,” Beliveau said. “I did cheerleading and that was my background in high school, but I just started working with kids and absolutely loved it. Watching them grow and develop while also serving as a role model, it really became a second family type of feeling. That’s really what we’ve tried to cultivate here.”

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