“The city of Hartford opened its arms to the gymnastics community,” said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics, “and our Congress attendees, coaches, athletes and VIPs were made to feel very welcome. The city’s layout made it simple for Congress attendees to branch out after sessions concluded to enjoy the local hospitality and events. The evening hospitality at the Old State House provided the perfect opportunity for Congress attendees and coaches to interact and connect.”
Hartford was transformed into “gymnastics city” for the week. Downtown was dressed with gymnastics imagery, as were major facilities like the airport and train station, and at the host hotels. Staff at the host hotels wore Visa Championships apparel, and nine restaurants created special entrees as part of the Taste of Visa Championships, a competition for the best healthy entrée. As part of the Go Hartford! program, special discounts were available for local businesses and attractions, as well as transportation to and from the airport.
The compact downtown area made it easy for Congress attendees to walk the Pathway of Champions to the Old State House for hospitality and on to the XL Center for men’s and women’s gymnastics. A local trolley also assisted in moving through the Hartford area.
The excitement throughout the city carried over to the Trade Show, which according to the U.S. Gymnastics Suppliers Association, was a complete success. Many new products joined the traditional offerings, and a number of Olympians were on hand to sign autographs and visit with vendors and attendees alike. Booth space was sold out, and hosting live demonstrations and clinics as part of the Trade Show contributed to a vibrant and thriving atmosphere. More than $65,000 of equipment and prizes were distributed through the Mega Raffle. Vendors reported increased traffic and brisk sales during the four days, with the sales impact continuing after the close of the Trade Show.
“I hope all of the participants had the same exceptional experience I did,” said John Deary, president of the USGSA. “The Trade Show was a huge success, and we are still seeing the positive results of our presence at the event. I think USA Gymnastics has set the bar high in Hartford for future Congress and Trade Show events. It was the best that I have experienced.”
The 180 educational sessions covered all aspects of the sport of gymnastics. An impressive list of presenters shared information and advice on topics ranging from the business-side of gymnastics to coaching techniques for all five disciplines and group gymnastics to sports science to preschool to social media.
“The feedback on the educational side of Congress has been very positive,” said Kathy Feldmann, vice president of member services for USA Gymnastics. “In fact, the initial reports we have received so far are very complimentary of the entire Congress effort in Hartford. We appreciate the cooperation and hospitality of everyone in Hartford, as well as the efforts of our volunteers and members to make it such a success.”
Social media, branding and risk management were the focus of the annual Business Conference, held the day before Congress begins. Deirdre Breakenridge, president and executive direct of communications at Mango!, gave background and advice on how gym clubs can harness the powerful social media tools to promote clubs and communicate with gym club members. Scott Willy, co-founder and director of creative services for three-sixty group, shared how gym club owners can utilize the advertising insert in Parents magazine to creatively build and market their own brand to current and potential gym club members and parents. Safety and risk management and the keys to promoting a safe environment were the main points covered by Scott Himsel, an attorney with Baker & Daniels Law Firm.
“Each of the Business Conference speakers captured the attention of the attendees,” said Penny. “The variety and importance of the topics were amply demonstrated by the diverse questions attendees asked. The information covered and shared should help these owners expand and grow their businesses in the coming months and years.”
The induction of the 2010 Hall of Fame class was also a popular event with attendees. More than 350 people attended the luncheon that featured acceptance speeches from the seven inductees: 1992 Olympic team bronze-medalist Wendy Bruce-Martin of Altamonte Springs, Fla.; 2004 and 2008 U.S. Men’s Olympic Team head coach Kevin Mazeika of Houston; 1996 Olympic team gold-medalist Dominique Moceanu of Cleveland, Ohio; 2000 U.S. Olympic trampoline coach Robert Null of Mission Viejo, Calif.; 2000 and 2004 Olympian Jennifer Parilla (trampoline) of Newport Beach, Calif.; 1996 Olympian Kip Simons of Larkspur, Colo.; and for lifetime achievement, Ellen Nyemcsik of Hackensack, N.J. (rhythmic gymnastics).
In 2011, the USA Gymnastics Congress and Trade Show and the Visa Championships will be held in Saint Paul, Minn., Aug. 17-20.