Gasparilla Invitational Will Bring Over 1,000 Gymnasts to Lakeland
Posted on October 17th, 2016 by Jack Cormier
20 years and thousands of gymnasts later, the Gasparilla Invitational continues to give back.
Twenty years ago, Tim Keckler started the Gasparilla Invitational as a chance for less advanced gymnasts to test their skills. That first year they had 100 competitors.
Come October 21, The Lakeland Center will be filled to the brim with 1,100 gymnasts taking to the mats and horses as the event has become one of the largest compulsory meets in the United States. According to Keckler, the changes at the event are more than just the number of participants. “Gymnastics, itself, changes every four years,” he said. “After the Olympics, everything changes because we all get a chance to see what is needed to get these athletes ready for higher levels of competition as they get older.”
Gasparilla Invitational remains one of the largest meets in the country.
What has also changed in the last 20 years is the venue for the event. What started as a fall companion to the Gasparilla Classic in St. Petersburg moved to Lakeland some years back simply so there would be more space. “We couldn’t fit the event anywhere around Tampa,” he said. “And the civic center is perfect. It’s a good venue with plenty of parking.”
Three years ago, Keckler and his staff incorporated Gasparilla Giving Back into the event. “We give the gymnasts, coaches, judges, staff and volunteers three tickets worth $1 each,” he said. “They can then choose from several pre-determined charities where they would like the monies donated. Through this, we’ve donated $50,000 through these events back to charities in the community.”
And there has been one other change – the event has gone international. “In years past, this has been a strictly Florida event,” he said. “This year, we have a team from the Caymans coming, as well as a team from Colombia.”