A writing exercise I completed at the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute. I had about seven hours to report on Evanston’s annual Fourth of July Parade and write a color story about it. The photo was published by The Daily Northwestern.
“Girls, be careful with the balloons!” 33-year-old Eric Lieb turns towards a colorful swarm of about a dozen children in gymnastics uniforms, all of whom are rushing to tape streamers and balloons to a silver prius, which has its trunk open and a large pink sign that says, “KIT Gymnastics” taped to its front. The children shout and laugh amongst themselves, caught up in the flurry of excitement and noise that comprises Evanston’s 4th of July parade.
KIT Gymnastics, which walked in the parade on Saturday, holds classes and camps for approximately 165 gymnasts in Evanston over the course of each year. The program aims to leave its young participants with more than just gymnastics skills.
“We structure the program in a way that’s very holistic,” says Lieb, the director and head coach of the program. “We use a lot of positive coaching methods, and we try to instill as much self-confidence and as much self-motivation in the gymnasts that we can.”
6-year-old Bella, a KIT gymnast who declined to state her last name, immensely enjoys the program.
“I love that you can do whatever you want and everybody is nice to you and you meet new people,” Bella says. She wraps an uninflated balloon around and around her index finger as she speaks. Colorful sequins on her black tank top sparkle in the sun, as she and the rest of the group awaits their turn to join the steady stream of decorated trucks, cars and floats that trickles down Central Street.
10-year-old Jane, who also declined to give her last name, summed up what she has learned at KIT Gymnastics with, “Be confident. Don’t be scared to do anything.”
Lieb believes that gymnastics can also help children develop problem-solving skills and responsibility.
“They learn to think a little more on their own, figure things out more on their own, and take ownership of what they’ve been doing,” he says. “They think they can do certain things that maybe they didn’t think they could do before. So I think that that could carry on to so many different aspects in life, both now and in the future.”
At around 2 p.m., a large group of high school-age girls wearing orange shirts, white T-shirts and blue and orange hair ribbons comes to a halt in front of the KIT Gymnasts. As music blasts, the young women begin an energetic hip-hop dance routine. The young gymnasts cheer on the older girls with plenty of clapping and whoops.
The hip hop dancers, more commonly known as Evanston Township High School’s Pomkits, or spirit squad, are an inspiration for the athletes at KIT Gymnastics. They perform at their school’s football and basketball games, and also attend dance competitions. A few of them work as coaches in the KIT Gymnastics program.
“This team is all about unity,” says 17-year old Missy Joseph, who is team captain of the Pomkits.
By the time the Pomkits move farther down the street, the KIT gymnasts have grown restless. They run around, practicing their high kicks and cartwheels. A few take refuge from the sun by sitting on the pavement in a sliver of shade cast by Lieb’s prius. Music plays from speakers fixed to the top of the car, while someone’s dad blows bubbles. More entertainment comes at a quarter to 3 p.m. when the Jesse White Tumbling Team performs flips and somersaults using a mini trampoline, much to the delight of the KIT gymnasts.
Finally, at 10 minutes to 3 p.m., the KIT Gymnastics team gets the signal from a parade marshal that it is time for them to begin marching.
“Let’s get together, gymnasts!” Lieb shouts.
The entire group forms a clump in the middle of the street, as two girls hold a giant banner with “KIT Gymnastics” in front of the car.
After about five minutes of walking, Lieb sprints back to the trunk of his car and retrieves a mat, placing it in the middle of the street. As each gymnast performs a trick, whether it is a cartwheel, the splits, or a backbend, the crowds on either side of the street cheer, chanting, “You go girls!” Lieb is right there the entire time, crouching at the end of the mat. He claps for each and every one of them.