Men's gymnastics camp brings male athletes from all over


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It's not football, baseball, or basketball. But 16-year-old Elijah Parsells said men's gymnastics is one of the most difficult sports out there, despite not having a lot of publicity.

Men's gymnastics might not be the most popular, but the Iowa camp is making moves to create change. Parsells is one of the 30 boys who are receiving first-rate instruction by the Iowa gymnastics staff this week.

Parsells is a native of northern California. He has traveled across the country for the past two years to come to the Hawkeye camp run under head coach JD Reive.

"There a concept of teaching just how to flip and twist and do all this crazy stuff. That is very much the antithesis of what we do," Reive said. "We are about fundamentally teaching proper gymnastics. That way the kids can learn and have fun with it, but respect the sport. This is a fun camp, but it's a very disciplined camp."

The camp is run in a very structured style. The rotations and breaks are stopped and started at exact times, down to the minute. The coaches focus on form, artistry, and presentation of each event.

"I'm excited for the kids to get some one-on-one time. They can perfect their skills," Meri Kephart, mother of one of the campers said. "We happened to be up here for a wedding and it corresponded with the camp. We look to the universities and Iowa has a good reputation. Gymnastics camps for boys are hard to find."

There are only 17 NCAA gymnastics camps offered in the entire country. This is mostly because of the lack of interest in the sport.

"Football, baseball, and basketball are the sports people want to play because of the publicity," Parsells said. "I think gymnastics is pretty difficult, so a ton of people don't stick with it up through college. Football, baseball, and basketball are a lot easier and they're shown on TV more. If you become a NFL football star, you could become a millionaire. There are a lot more incentives to play in other sports."

The Iowa men's gymnastics team finished its season ranked No. 11 nationally and sent three gymnasts to the individual event semifinals: Javier Balboa and Broderick Shemansky in the all-around competition and Anton Gryshyev in the rings. All three finished in the top-20.

The campers get instruction from Rieve himself, the very coach that sent the Hawkeyes to the NCAA championships in April.

One-on-one training draws in such gymnasts as Parsells. He started training in gymnastics when he was 2, and his parents put him in all different kinds of sports. Parsells decided to stick with gymnastics rather than baseball or soccer because of the constant opportunity to learn something new. Gymnastics emphasizes athletic concepts such as injury prevention, strength, flexibility, and an understanding of where one's body is in space and how to use it — qualities that are necessary in all sports — and that sold the sport to Parcells.

Others might need more motivation to give men's gymnastics a try, however.

Interest in men's gymnastics might increase this year after the Olympic Games in London. As the five men on the U.S. Olympic team goes for the gold, young gymnasts all over the country will be watching.

"Every four years, gymnasts are these big super stars [during the Olympics]," Reive said. "If we had any idea how to keep that interest the years in between, we'd be great."

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