USA Gymnastics and Right To Play, a global organization that uses organized sport and play to educate and empower children facing adversity, are partnering to bring gymnastics and the opportunity to play to children across the United States. Three of the USA’s well-known gymnasts – 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabrielle Douglas, 2008 Olympic horizontal bar silver-medalist Jonathan Horton and 2008 Olympic team silver-medalist Alicia Sacramone – will serve as Right To Play Athlete Ambassadors and co-chairs of National Gymnastics Day. Through special events, National Gymnastics Day, the Athlete Ambassador program and community outreach, the two organization’s mutual goal is to provide opportunities to children who would normally not have the chance to experience both gymnastics and the power of participating in sports.
Right To Play and USA Gymnastics share the mission of positioning sport and play as pathways for educating children and youth to overcome adversity in disadvantaged communities. Right To Play and USA Gymnastics plan to engage children and young adults throughout the United States in play-based learning and, in turn, encourage health, safety, leadership and teamwork skills through organized gymnastics activities.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this partnership can make a positive difference in the lives of disadvantaged youth in the United States,” said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. “Gymnastics teaches the value of physical activity and many of the life skills needed to be healthy and achieve success. The gymnastics community has a history of using National Gymnastics Day as a way to support charitable causes, and the goals and mission of Right To Play match perfectly with those of our members – using sport and play to educate and improve the lives of today’s youth.”
“All of us at Right To Play are honored and excited about our new partnership with USA Gymnastics, and we look forward to getting to work, bridging disadvantaged communities in the U.S. with opportunities to experience sport and play specifically through gymnastics,” said Johann Olav Koss, a four-time Olympic gold medalist speed skater, as well as founder and CEO of Right To Play.
The key elements of the partnership, which extends through 2016, are as follows.
- Right To Play Gymnastics Festival. The first joint event, the Right To Play Gymnastics Festival, took place in Harlem on Sept. 15 at the Harlem Armory. A fundraiser for Right To Play, the festival provided children from throughout the New York metro area with a unique opportunity to learn gymnastics basics through the USA Gymnastics Fitness Zone, mingle with the three Athlete Ambassadors and other gymnasts, and experience the power and benefits of sport and play. The Right To Play Gymnastics Festival is expected to be an annual event.
- National Gymnastics Day. Held annually, National Gymnastics Day is a celebration of the sport and provides gymnastics clubs across the country with a reason to host special events to promote gymnastics and support a charitable effort. In 2013, National Gymnastics Day was Sept. 21, and clubs across the country will host events to benefit either Right To Play or Children’s Miracle Network. Beginning in 2014, Right To Play will be the sole focus of the day’s charitable efforts.
- Athlete Ambassadors. Douglas, Horton and Sacramone will join Right To Play’s force of 300-plus Athlete Ambassadors who support Right To Play’s mission and advocate the power of play through attending events and lending their celebrity to the cause. As co-chairs for National Gymnastics Day, the trio will also serve as spokespersons for the annual celebration and its efforts to promote gymnastics and the power of play.
“Becoming involved with Right To Play and National Gymnastics Day will help me achieve my goals of inspiring children to pursue their dreams,” said Douglas, who is from Virginia Beach, Va., and trains at Chow’s Gymnastics and Dance. “I have learned in the months since last summer that I can have a positive impact on kids and show that if you have drive and determination, you can accomplish big things. And, these two efforts will give me an added opportunity to share that message.”
Horton, who hails from Houston and trains at Cypress Gymnastics Academy, said, “I know first-hand how important sports involvement can be for young men and women in learning life skills, achieving success and following a vision. Helping children discover how play can make a positive difference in their lives will be a rewarding experience for me, and as a new dad, it will also be a valuable learning opportunity.”
Sacramone of Winchester, Mass., who has retired from gymnastics and is a business owner, said, “I am excited about the chance to share what I have learned through sports with today’s kids who may not know how empowering sports can be. If we can positively impact the lives of children who are facing adversity or are challenged by their living circumstances, then we may have helped them find ways to chart their future path.”
Right To Play is a global organization that uses organized sport and play to educate and empower children facing adversity. It was founded in 2000 by Koss, who is also a social entrepreneur and the 2013 recipient of the Henry R. Kravis Prize for Leadership. Right To Play’s organizing premise — that play-based learning can act as a powerful tool for a child’s social and cognitive development — has shown measurable results in 20 countries on four continents. Right To Play serves more than one million children every week in regular activities that promote health, conflict resolution, basic life skills, education, self-esteem, dignity and respect. These are children who have lost family members, have disabilities, are affected by HIV and AIDS, live on the streets and in refugee camps, and are former child combatants. Right To Play is supported by an international network of more than 300 professional and Olympic athletes from more than 40 countries. For more information, visit www.righttoplayusa.org.
“Johann has morphed his vision into an organization that has helped children with challenges worldwide, and we look forward to assisting him in expanding that impact to disadvantaged children here in the USA,” said Penny.
About USA Gymnastics: USA Gymnastics is the national governing body for gymnastics in the United States. Its mission is to encourage participation and the pursuit of excellence in the sport. Its disciplines include men's and women's artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline and tumbling, acrobatic gymnastics and group gymnastics. For more information, log on to www.usagym.org.
About the Athletes:
- Gabrielle Douglas. Gabrielle Douglas, a member of The Fierce Five? who won the Olympic team gold medal in London, made history at the 2012 Olympic Games when she became the first African American to win the women’s Olympic all-around gold medal and the first U.S. gymnast to win both the Olympic team and all-around titles at the same Games. She also is the first African American to win an individual Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. Douglas is just the fourth U.S. woman to win the Olympic all-around crown. Douglas began her Olympic year campaign in March with an impressive performance at the Kellogg's Pacific Rim Championships, where she helped Team USA bring home the gold medal and claimed the uneven bars title. At the Secret U.S. Classic, she took top honors on the uneven bars and tied for third in the floor exercise. At the Visa Championships, Douglas won the U.S. title on the uneven bars, as well as the all-around silver medal and the floor exercise bronze medal to advance to the U.S. Olympic Trials -- Gymnastics. Leading up to London, she won the U.S. Olympic Trials to secure an automatic berth on the U.S. Olympic Women’s Team. In 2011, she was a member of the women’s team that won the team title at the World Championships. Douglas was voted the Associated Press’ Female Athlete of the Year and the Women’s Sports Foundation’s “Sportswoman of the Year” for 2012. Douglas, who trains at Chow’s Gymnastics and Dance, recently returned to training with the goal of competing in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
- Jonathan Horton. Jonathan Horton of Houston made his second straight U.S. Olympic Team for men’s gymnastics in 2012, where he advanced to the horizontal bar event finals, and has set his sights on 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. Earlier in 2012, he won his second U.S. still rings title and was the high bar bronze medalist. Horton helped the U.S. Men’s Team win the team bronze medal at the 2011 World Championships, the USA’s first World team medal since 2003. In 2011, he also won the AT&T American Cup, claiming his third American Cup all-around title, and finished second in the all-around at the Visa Championships. In 2010, Horton won his second straight U.S. all-around title and claimed his first world all-around medal by finishing third at the World Championships. Horton helped the U.S. men win the Olympic team bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic Games and brought home the silver medal on horizontal bar. A three-time team captain at the University of Oklahoma, Horton recorded 18 All-America honors, six NCAA individual titles, the 2006 NCAA all-around title and three NCAA team titles (2005-06, 2008). Since graduating from Oklahoma, Horton married Haley De Prospero, who is currently in medical school, and they have a new son. Horton trains at Cypress Academy.
- Alicia Sacramone. A 2008 Olympic team silver-medalist, Alicia Sacramone of Winchester, Mass., won 10 World medals, the most by a U.S. gymnast. She won two individual World titles (floor, 2005; vault, 2010); helped Team USA to its first-ever team gold medal on foreign soil in 2007; and was a member of the 2011 gold-medal winning World Championships team. Her World medal count also includes four silver and two bronze medals: silver – team (2006, 2010), vault (2006), and floor exercise (2007); and bronze – vault (2005, 2007). Sacramone also holds the U.S. record for the most individual event titles with her six vault crowns, winning the sixth in 2012. She also won the U.S. balance beam title in 2011 and the floor exercise gold in 2005-06. Sacramone, who trained at Brestyan’s American Gymnastics, retired from competitive gymnastics after making a run at the 2012 Olympic Team. She has remained active in gymnastics through coaching, creating choreography and commentating at NCAA gymnastics competitions. She also is a co-owner of Sole Impact Socks, preventative apparel that absorbs up to 94.7 percent of all impact shock.