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Local gymnastics owners address ‘Flip Fest’ death

Owners of local gymnastics centers voiced their concern for athletes’ safety following a death at a recent gymnastics meet in Knoxville.

Jordan Bonne, a 15-year-old Cincinnati youth, died as a result of head injuries sustained at January’s Flip Fest Invitational at the Knoxville Convention Center.

“This elite athlete hit the trampoline after dropping approximately thirty-five feet at a severe angle, propelling him backwards off the trampoline,” explained eye witness Boog Potter, president of Premier Gymnastics and Tumbling Center on Western Avenue. “He flew at just the right angle and direction to go above and between the spotters with his head extending past all the matting.”

Potter said the attendees, some of whom have been in the sport for more than 30 years, had never witnessed a tragic death like Bonne’s.

“That is why it has been referred to as a freak accident,” Potter added.

Heidi De La Rocha, part owner and teacher at Heidi’s Musical Gymnastics in Farragut concurred.

“The tragedy that occurred recently was a freak accident,” she said, but “serious competitive gymnastics has a one hundred percent injury rate.”

Cyndi Tataru, owner of Tataru’s Gymnastics and Tumbling in the Farragut area, said gymnastics has a level of inherited risk. “Injuries can happen when skills are taught without safety in mind to unprepared and unaware athletes,” she said.

Tataru pointed out that all safety standards were met at the Flip Fest Invitational, above and beyond international safety rules.

“The accident is considered by all professionals to have been a freak accident,” she added.

Potter, De La Rocha and Tataru all offer trampolining at their studios.

Heidi’s Musical Gymnastics offers a noncompetitive program that includes a specially designed mini trampoline for young children.

Tataru said 95 percent of her students train on in-ground trampolines, which are level with the ground.

The total enrollment of both the gymnastics and cheerleading gyms on Western Avenue is approximately 1,500 students, including some from the Farragut area. According to Potter, all of these students spend time on a trampoline.

While injuries are a part of the sport, the local owners believe their safety precautions guard against most common occurrences.

“Trampoline inside a gymnastics center is very safe,” Potter said. He added that gymnastics traditionally has less major injuries due to the significant matting and focus on proper progression.

Tataru said, “Our parents and students feel that they are in a safe training center and thank us for making it so. We have no exposed concrete, everywhere is covered by carpet foam and mats.”

De La Rocha said, “Our equipment is low to the ground to discourage injuries.”

In addition, she said that mini trampolines are safer than large trampolines, “but there are always dangers with trampolines and many safety requirements should be met, including proper spotting, training and mats.”

At the Flip Fest Invitational, the setup of the trampoline area exceeded safety guidelines mandated by USA Gymnastics and the Federation of International Gymnastics.

According to Potter, whose gym was the primary sponsor of the event through its parent booster organization USA Gymnastics, safety guidelines require one foot of matting covering the springs of the trampoline, index tables on the ends of the trampoline measuring 6 feet by 10 feet, a 6-foot by10-foot skill cushion with a thickness of eight inches on the index table, as well as an angled mat connecting the matting on the trampoline to the skill cushion. In addition, a two-inch form is required on either side of the trampoline with four spotters on each corner of the trampoline bed.

“We did this, as well as added an additional skill cushion on the ground on either end lengthening the matting on each end to thirteen inches,” Potter said. “We (also) added two more spotters for a total of six.”

Potter added that the judges at the competition approved the equipment and stated that it was exceptional.

“Unfortunately, there is an occasional major injury,” Potter said, and added that Bonne’s was the only fatality on the trampoline in the 40-year history of USA Gymnastics.

“What’s important to remember is that this athlete was a junior elite competitor who had just returned from competing internationally in Germany. At that elite level, there is an added amount of risk.”

However, Potter has petitioned USA Gymnastics to increase its requirements for the matted areas around trampoline.

“Regardless of the forty-year history, it only takes one accident to change your way of thinking,” Potter said. “I believe USA Gymnastics and the (Federation of International Gymnastics) should require fifteen more feet of matting on each end of the trampoline in addition to the seven feet of matting on the index table.”

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