Local youth stunt team wins national title

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 7, 2017

When the Natchez Gymnastics All-Star Gators left for Fort Walton Beach, Fla. almost two weeks ago they had nothing to lose, but what the five-member cheer and stunt team came home with was much more than it could have wished for.

The Gators, made up of Paitin Burns, Ally Blanton, Kaylea Hall, Madison Burgess and Sara Nunnery, returned to Natchez after winning a Victory Athletics Level 3 Youth National Championship.

“They put in a lot of hours and conditioning, and I think they were tired and excited,” Natchez Gymnastics president Kim Strawbridge said.

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Strawbridge, who has been with Natchez Gymnastics for nearly three decades, said the organization has had stunt teams in the past, but the Gators are the first in a handful of years.

After holding tryouts last summer, the girls began conditioning and strength training to gear up for the season ahead. Over the course of the last nine months, the Gators have traveled to five different competitions, placing first in every one.

“This was the first time most have them done anything like this,” Strawbridge said. “They train more than anyone else in the gym.”

After the Gators’ first competition this past November in Jackson, the team scored high enough to earn an automatic submission to compete in nationals. Strawbridge said the girls didn’t stop there, despite securing their bid.

“They added skills levels and things to upgrade the value (of their routine),” she said. “They just kept growing and growing and growing.”

Strawbridge said while she wasn’t able to travel to Florida with the team, Gators coach India Burns did FaceTime with her and the girls just before they went out to perform their championship routine.

“You can tell on their faces it was a big deal,” Strawbridge said. “The work that goes into it is intense, so it was a stress relief when it was over. I’m extremely proud of their hard work and achievements. You want them to be happy and see them smile. For them to win, that was the best reward.”