SAN ANTONIO -- The epicenter of Texas gymnastics this weekend was the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, where about 975 girls ages 6 through 18 competed in the fourth Alamo Classic.
Hosted by Aerial Athletics, San Antonio's largest gymnastics club, the meet drew gymnasts from 11 states. It started Friday morning and ended Sunday afternoon.
"We'll start working on next year's meet as soon as this one ends," said volunteer Robert Briones, whose daughter Emily, a sophomore at the International School of the Americas, competed in the meet.
The San Antonio area was represented by about 100 gymnasts, including high school students Sarah Lyons and Braie Speed, who have committed to Illinois and Arkansas, respectively.
The Alamo Classic is the brainchild of Aerial Athletics owner Heather Schnelzer, who competed in gymnastics at the College of William & Mary before earning her degree in education at Trinity in 2000.
A part-time coach when she was a student at Trinity, Schnelzer established Aerial Athletics in 2003 and has worked with scores of girls gymnasts in the past decade.
"I loved coaching when I was a student at Trinity, doing it for supplementary money, and I just decided that was the career path I wanted to follow," Schnelzer said. "I wanted to do something I really enjoy, and I had been a competitive gymnast all of my life. To see a child who puts so much work and effort succeed and develop is just amazing."
Aerial Athletics has two gyms, one in San Antonio and another in Schertz, and about 800 members. It offers activities for girls from 18 months to 18 years old.
Aerial Athletics' competitive team shines in classroom
The club's competitive team, which features some of the best high school-age gymnasts in the state, has 150 athletes. They range from ages 6 through 18.
"These girls have to have incredible drive and maturity," said Schnelzer, 37. "Our girls have to have time-management skills that most adults don't have. They train anywhere between 20 and 36 hours a week, and they're all great students. We require that all of our kids turn in their report cards, so we know exactly where they stand academically because that's a priority for us."
All of the girls on Aerial Athletics' competitive team have a grade-point average of at least 3.5, Schnelzer said.
"Most of our kids fall between a 3.8 and a 4.1 GPA," she said. "They are amazing student-athletes. They are great people. Their attention to detail in every respect of their life, as far as being physically fit and emotionally fit, is so impressive. And what it takes to train at this level is pretty amazing."
Briones and John Kadous are among the membership of the Aerial Athletics Parents Association, which helps the club financially and has played a key role in the success of the Alamo Classic.
"I always supported my daughters' athletic ventures, and this is how I do it," said Kadous, 47.
Kadous' oldest daughter, Caryn, competed for Aerial Athletics and is now a sophomore gymnast at Auburn. He has a younger daughter, Victoria, who competes in acrobatic gymnastics.
Kadous and Briones, 42, helped set up the gymnastics equipment at the Convention Center before the meet and assisted other volunteers with clerical duties during the competition.
"It's really neat to see how it all comes together and unfolds," Kadous said.
Aerial Athletics puts emphasis on team concept
Schnelzer deflects most of the credit for the success of the Alamo Classic to the support of the athletes' parents and her assistant coaches.
"Having a meet like this was a dream of mine, but it took an amazing group of parents to help make this meet to fruition," Schnelzer said. "We started with 490 athletes and we're at 960 this weekend, so we've doubled. "I am blessed with the best support system anywhere.
"The Olympics was a huge boost for us. The growth in our sport has been incredible over the past year. We love that our parents are willing to put their focus on their kids and keeping them in a sport, keeping them physically fit and healthy. I think this sport teaches kids so many incredible qualities."
Schnelzer said Aerial Athletics has produced 17 athletes who have landed gymnastics scholarships to Division I schools in the past decade.
"The sport itself is very individualized, but our club, our gym, puts the focus on the team," Schnelzer said. "Our kids understand the 'we' and that's all they understand. They care of their own things and get it done, but the focus is on the team and taking care of each other. That's why you hear them cheering for each other.
Speed, a sophomore home-school student, has competed for Aerial Athletics since 2010.
"It's very college-oriented and I love the way Heather has made it about how you're going to do it in college," Speed said. "That's mainly why I joined Aerial Athletics. It's about team and the coaches are great."
Balance in athletes' lives important to Schnelzer
Speed has been in gymnastics almost longer than she can remember.
"From an early age, you have to learn about discipline," Speed said. "Gymnastics is not like football, baseball or basketball, where you have offseasons. All the time, all year, you go to the gym every day. You come when you're sick or injured. It definitely teaches you a lot. It helps you grow up.
Lyons, a senior at New Braunfels Canyon High School, expressed similar thoughts.
"I absolutely love what the gym stands for," Lyons said. "I couldn't think of a better place to train before I go to college. It's a family atmosphere. I love her (Schnelzer's) philosophy. It's taken kids far.
"Being part of Aerial Athletics has taught me about dedication and how important time management is. It's made me a more mature person. It gets me to places. It's made me very goal oriented."
Valerie Oates, business manager for Aerial Athletics the past eight years, praised Schnelzer's perspective on how gymnastics should fit in the lives of the girls she works with daily.
"The biggest thing I think Heather brings to the table is balance for all of our kids and their families," Oates said. "Of course, athleticism is of great importance. But you just can't built on athleticism.
"It takes commitment, it takes discipline, it takes parental support. All of those things combined is what I think our parents value."