on January 29, 2010 by in Uncategorized, Comments (1)

Upstate Gymnastics gearing up for annual Tiger Paw Classic

By Eric Sprott

The Journal

PENDLETON — When the top comparison for your event is a trip to Disney World, it’s obvious you’re doing something right.

Fresh off a trip to the Magic Kingdom, the members of the Upstate Gymnastics Center are readying to host their showcase event, as the fourth annual Tiger Paw Classic will be held next Thursday through Sunday at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson.

With better than 1,600 girls from a number of states traveling to take part in the event, the excitement level is at a fever pitch, as the Tiger Paw Classic is regarded as perhaps the marquee gymnastics event in the state.

And believe it or not, for all the traveling the team from Upstate Gymnastics does annually, there’s little basis for comparison for the Tiger Paw Classic outside of last week’s trip to the Wide World of Sports Complex.

“That’s a pretty good comparison,” Upstate Gymnastics coach and founder Maureen Williamson said. “ That’s a pretty good thing to aim for, and that’s true.”

That’s at least true in terms of participation and the size of the venue, as the Tiger Paw Classic is perhaps best known for the effort that goes into the production, which is second to none.

“They just put a lot more into it,” said Level 8 gymnast Sara Jane McGee. “You can tell that they work on our meet for a really long time to make every girl feel welcomed.”

McGee, a 14-year old home-schooled native of Clemson, has been with Upstate Gymnastics since she was 3 years old and has taken part in each of the previous three Tiger Paw Classic events.

And having watched the event grow over the years, McGee said it improved each year.

“It gets bigger and bigger every year and there’s something to look forward to every year, because the people that plan it are amazing,” McGee said. “They make it new every year, so it’s exciting every time.”

That effort doesn’t go unnoticed by visitors to the event either, as the Upstate Gymnastics crew regularly hears positive feedback on the road during other meets.

“They love the Tiger Paw,” said Level 7 gymnast Abby Martin. “We have little tags to get in the meet and you see it on the gymnasts’ bags and it just makes me feel good because it’s our meet.”

With the introduction ceremony among the top draws to the event, Martin, a 13-year old student at Edwards Middle School in Central, said the Tiger Paw Classic has a surreal feel to it.

“It’s really cool,” Martin said. “It’s just like you’re in the Olympics because it’s so big and there’s so many gymnasts.”

And in a nutshell, that’s what Williamson and her girls take the most pride in as the host team.

“People say it’s probably the best meet they’ve ever been to,” Williamson said. “Normally you go to a meet, kind of wander in and maybe don’t have a march in, you just go to your event and any old person hands out the ribbons.

“We have it just like a college gymnastics meet because most of these children will never do it in college, but we want them to have that excitement.”

And with a record number of participants expected, with 219 volunteers slated to staff the event, Williamson is looking forward to another memorable Tiger Paw Classic.

“It’s amazing that they come here,” Williamson said. “It’s not like we’re Disney World or something like that. They come because of the meet. They don’t come to go on the rides. They just come here because it’s a good meet.”

eric@dailyjm.com | 882-2385