The Mission of WWVA's Acro Knights
"What does it take to be a gymnast?" is a frequent question asked by Scott Schafer, head coach of the Acro Knights from Walla Walla Valley Academy. Answers to the question are as varied as the audiences for whom the group is performing.
Through a series of precise and daring tosses, flips, three-highs, tumbling done in small and large group routines, team members then demonstrate the four attributes of risk, strength, flexibility, and trust Coach Schafer emphasizes throughout the group's performances.
Now in their 12th season this year's team of 30 members have made both young and old hold their collective breath while routines of balance and strength unfold in front of them.
Each year the group puts on approximately 30 to 35 programs throughout the Walla Walla Valley and the Northwest in such venues as nursing homes, schools, county fairs, hot-air balloon festivals, college and university basketball games and during half-time at professional basketball games. They've told the children's story and even "preached" the sermon in churches using their gymnastic skills.
In March 2005 the team traveled to Hawaii where they presented programs for a hospital and did impromptu clinics and programs on beaches and in street shows. March 2007 found them in Belize where they put on Vacation Bible Schools, worked on construction projects and again hosted programs and clinics. "It was tiring and hard work but worth the effort," commented one team member.
While the team practices three times a week perfecting their own routines, they also spend one to two hours each Sunday afternoon during the winter and spring months working with area elementary students in a Junior Acro program. This group of 40 to 45 aspiring gymnasts puts on their own program and then joins the Acro Knights in the annual Home Show each May.
In an attempt to assist WWVA students who desire to become an Acro Knight, Coach Schafer teaches a one-semester class, Introduction to Acros, in the fall of each year. This affords students not only P.E. credit but helps them develop gymnastics skills in anticipation of trying out for the team.
A new program for the Acro team in the spring of 2006–07 was operating four after-school programs every day for four weeks at local elementary schools. Team members rotated and juggled their schedules to make all these programs operate effectively. "Being involved in acrobatics can teach children to work as a team and to trust each other as they hold or catch another during the practices," says Julia Hanson, a senior.
Following a program at Assumption Elementary in Walla Walla, the athletic director for the Catholic schools commented to one of the adults with the Acros, "We are always blessed when you come each year. Your kids tell it right, both physically and spiritually, with their lives and routines.
Coach Schafer, reflecting on the Belize trip, said, "We use our performances to give our students a sense of mission and how they can use all their talents to witness for Christ."
"Kids telling it right physically and spiritually" perhaps best sums up the practice and mission of WWVA's Acro Knights gymnastics team.