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Young Gymnasts Get Guidance Olympic-Style

It's the driving force of coach Andrei Shamecko that motivates Burke third-grader Will Taube to excel in gymnastics on the R&C Gymnastics Stars team in Springfield.

That's his favorite part.

"Working with Andrei, he teaches us a unique way," Will said.

His mother, Cynthia Rudorfer, likes the long-term influence Shamenko has on the boys on the team. She sees it especially in her son Kevin, who specializes in the high bar.

"Andrei motivates, the boys adore him even though he's demanding. I think what he's instilled in him [Kevin] is a standard. It's a life lesson they will carry with them forever," she said.

Fourth-grader Kevin Rudorfer likes the high bar.

"You get to do swings," he said.

Shamenko's skills come from a long line of gymnasts with roots in the former Soviet Union. His father was the Ukrainian national champion, and his brother won a bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. His sister-in-law was also an Olympic champion, winning a gold medal in 1992.

"Gymnastics is in my blood. It builds fundamentals for any sport, discipline, not just body but brain," he said with a Slavic accent. His large physique is part of the influence, as well.

At 12, Brian Piche is the oldest on the competitive gymnastics team. He remembered a moment on the rings that created a bond and respect for Shamenko.

"When I was on the rings, I messed up and I thought Andrei would get mad, but he patted me on the back and shook my hand," Brian said.

Leslee Malcom's son Major specializes in the floor routine. He's been at it since he was 5, and now he's a 9-year-old third-grader at Emmanuel school in Springfield. They are a military family and move around frequently, but she's happy they've found a spot on the team for Major.

"Andrei makes it all worth it. You don't get this caliber of coach, a Russian coach," she said.

Camaraderie and teamwork are also stressed on the mats. While at the competitions, the boys appreciate this as well. At the first competitions, there were not many fans in the audience because the team was not that well-known. They cheered loudest for each other, though. Will remembers the feeling.

"If your friend beats you, just shake his hand and say, 'Good job,'" Will said.

Brian noted that spirit as well.

"We give high fives to each other," he said.

Their team spirit goes deep. Major remembered joining the group.

"First day I joined this team, everyone welcomed me," he said.

<mh>History

<bt>Shamecko dropped out of the coaching scene for the 2000-01 competitive season, and the boys, all except Major, continued honing their skills at another gym and under another coach. They kept in contact, though, and reunited at the Rhythm and Cheer (R&C) studios and started outfitting the gym themselves. Now it is fully outfitted with new and used equipment. Debra Jindra was one of the parents involved.

"It was a real effort," she said.

Sheryl Olecheck, a graduate of West Springfield High School, manages the facility.

"I have eight dance teams, two cheerleading squads and a boys gymnastics," she said.

Olecheck was once on the Redskinettes squad, the cheerleaders for the Washington Redskins.

<mh>Team Efforts

<mh>The R&C Gymnastics Stars are sanctioned by USA Gymnastics, which is the sole governing body for the sport in the United States. Although this is their first year together, they placed first in a recent Northern Virginia meet and swept first, second, third and fourth places in the individual all-around. Their next competition is on Jan. 26 at the Northern Virginia Gymnastics Academy in Sterling.

The competitions consist of floor exercises, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar.

Competitions are governed by the Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, which gets its designation as the governing body from the International Olympic Committee and the International Gymnastics Federation. More than 71,000 athletes are registered in competitive programs through USA Gymnastics.

Jason Furr, a gymnast from Woodbridge, who is presently on the National team, came by to meet the team once. Furr's sister works at the gym as well. Furr judged some of the team’s practice, and Shamenko thinks he's Olympic material. Furr made an impression on them as well.

"He didn't deduct everything we did," Will said.