Gasparilla Invitational will test gymnasts’ skills Oct. 20-21

A young gymnast at the RP Funding Center

A young gymnast at the RP Funding Center

Twenty two years ago – with barely 300 competitors – Tim Keckler started the Gasparilla Invitational as a chance for less advanced gymnasts to test their skills.

From Oct. 20-21, the 22nd Annual Gasparilla Invite at the RP Funding Center will have 915 athletes compete from 34 teams throughout Florida, as well as a team from the Cayman Islands. It is the largest compulsory meet in Florida. It is also a good test of skills against some of the top teams in the state prior to the State Championships in November and December.

“Today, we couldn’t fit the event anywhere around Tampa,” said Gasparilla Fall Invitational Meet Director Tim Keckler. “RP Funding Center is perfect – it’s a good venue with plenty of parking.”

While not receiving as high a profile as other girls sports, no one should question the effort these athletes put in, said Keckler.

“Gymnastics is demanding and requires a commitment of quite a few hours of practice time,” he said. “It teaches these athletes great time management skills, goal setting, focus and we can’t say it enough, commitment. It requires strength, flexibility and athletism.”

The Level 1 and 2 State Championships will be held in Winter Haven at Polk State College Nov. 17-18.

Determined to give back to the community, this year’s event only had to look to the Florida Panhandle for inspiration.

“We give the gymnasts three tickets worth $1 each,” he said. “They can then choose from several pre-determined charities where they would like the monies donated. We add $250 per charity. Through this, we have donated $100,000 through these events back to charities in the community. This year, we’ve added Panama City gymnastics schools to the list.”

Others on the charity list this year include the Humane Society of Polk County, The Make-A-Wish Foundation, Shriners Hospitals for Children-Tampa, and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa.

Admission to the event is $15 for adults, $10 for children ages 5 to 17, and free for children 4 and under.

For more information, call (813) 558-0035.