By Rick Cawley

For the Review

If the yearlong pandemic has done nothing else on a positive note, it has spurned creative ideas on how to do a myriad of things in a virtual manner that could never have been envisioned. Things that have become second nature could never have been imagined beforehand. Remote school instruction, business zoom meetings, streaming family gatherings, and now virtual sporting events.

What would have been the 13th annual Pink Invitational at the Pa. Convention Center with thousands of athletes from the East Coast coming together this weekend for a dynamic array of gymnastics competition could have easily fallen victim as another casualty of the Covid backlash. The meet, which is spearheaded by the “Unite For Her” organization, seeks to foster awareness and financial support for those afflicted with breast and ovarian cancer.

The Kippettes, who normally call Kendrick Recreation Center their home base, have been renting practice time this season at the enormous Phila. Gymnastics Center in West Conshohocken this season with their usual friendly confines closed down. With the aid of modern digital technology and the hard work of a dedicated coaching staff led by Janette Mancini, the Kippettes were determined to find a way to salvage their season.

Unfortunately, because the Kippettes could not rent out the PGC facility for an entire weekend that would be needed to compete in the actual Pink event, they have still been able to take part in the Pink experience. The “Unite For Her” organization and officials from the Pink Invitational have encouraged teams to hold their own meets throughout the month where they can have an opportunity to raise awareness and generate funds for the cause.

With the aid of a few laptops offering camera feeds to remote judges and some amazing logistical ingenuity on the part of the Kippettes coaching staff, they were able to offer the youngsters the semblance of a real meet. With camera monitors pointed at each of the apparatus and judges scoring each event remotely, the Kippettes have been able to take part in what might have seemed inconceivable at one point in the past…a virtual sports competition.

However, what was missing from the meet and can’t be totally simulated by any piece of technology was the fact that parents, friends and family were prohibited from attending the event because of the all-pervasive echo of Covid protocols for indoor gatherings. This is obviously one consequence of trying to stage various sports activities in a safe manner where young athletes are often unable to share the in-person experience of triumphs and failings with loved ones.

Fortunately, through the utilization of “live streaming” technology, the young athletes were still able to have the sense that they are being observed at home. For most, the feelings of “butterflies” and pre-meet angst would be pretty much the same.

The viewers would nonetheless be grateful that they still get to witness their darlings in action, albeit through a computer screen. A lot of the technical savvy that was needed for helping to navigate the complex set up, to oversee the streaming video feed to parents, and tabulate the scoring fell into the capable hands of Jen Arnoldi and Theresa Parrino.

The Kippettes coaches tried to replicate the trimmings of an actual sports event. The gymnasts got to march in with their competitive levels dressed in pink with all the pomp and pizzazz of a normal meet. A playing of the Star Spangled Banner was met with the usual amount of earnestness and genuine regard for the ritual as there might be under normal circumstances. The young ladies were treated an inspirational opening address from former gymnast and coach Xandy Stoffere who was joined by her mom Maureen who is unfortunately battling cancer for the 2nd time.

As the gymnasts each went to their particular event, Mancini along with her technical support crew would meticulously set up the camera feeds to capture the athletes which would allow the remote judges a chance to evaluate each young lady’s performance. The judges would relay their appraisal so that the athletes could see their assessment in almost the same time frame as a normal meet.

Gymnastics, like any moving sport and despite all the safety precautions that are possible, can have its share of boo-boos and minor accidents. No need to fear for the Kippettes as Elizabeth Howe was kind enough to donate her services and be on stand-by and perhaps utilize her nursing skills if need be.

Following the meet, the young athletes received place ribbons and trophies that would further provide a sense of normalcy. Many of the competitors came away with all-time top scores which would also reward the gymnasts for the many hours of arduous practice spent perfecting their routines which were being evaluated by outside observers.

Probably the most satisfaction was gained by Janette Mancini and her devoted coaching staff of Tina Graber, Kathy Ciesielka, Maya Lerman, Sam Myers, Kristina DiSanto, and Theresa Henderson. They have nurtured and pushed their young protegees hour after hour and year after year to be the best that they can be. One couldn’t help notice the twinkle of joy in their eyes watching their flock blossom.

And let us not forget the parents and family support members who sacrifice so much to allow the children to have as much of a sense of normalcy as can be expected in these uncertain times and provide a metaphoric safety net when things don’t always go as planned.

Coach Mancini summed up her feelings in a nutshell, “we take huge pride in participating in such an amazing event. We are happy that in spite of everything going on that we could still be part of our favorite annual meet.”

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