Lake Norman & Mooresville

When is bouncing off the walls a good thing?

Middle School Madness

Lake Norman YMCA hosts a monthly program in which middle schoolers enjoy basketball, gymnastics, and dancing.
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Lake Norman YMCA hosts a monthly program in which middle schoolers enjoy basketball, gymnastics, and dancing.

There were kids literally bouncing off the walls at the Lake Norman YMCA. And that was a good thing.

They were there to participate in a program held on the second Friday of each month named Middle School Madness, with an emphasis on madness.

With close to 200 attendees, YMCA leaders were pleased to host its celebration of tweeners. The kids enjoyed the freedoms of playing pick-up basketball, grooving to dance music, and, yes, bouncing off the walls, with the help of dangling P.E. class-style ropes, in the recreation facility’s gymnastics center.

“None of this compares to anything I’ve done before,” said 12-year Emily Celeste of Cornelius. “You have dancing, you have basketball, you have a band playing. You have this huge area with all the gymnastics stuff, but it’s spread apart so we won’t bump into each other.”

Well, most people weren’t bumping into each other. But in some cases, especially with a group of boys improvising several games of physical contact on the gymnastics center’s floor, bumping was practically required.

Middle School Madness, which has been held at least for the five years that Director of Family Services Erik Walsingham has been employed at the Lake Norman YMCA in Cornelius, encourages many of the luxuries middle-schoolers desire: freedom of choice, freedom of expression and freedom to eat pizza.

Here’s how the program works.

Attendees do not have to be members of the YMCA. Walsingham, who coordinates the program, says that about 60 percent of Middle School Madness participants are not YMCA clientele.

On Thursdays and Fridays prior to the monthly event, YMCA staff sell tickets at Bailey Middle School, the school most represented at Middle School Madness. But Mooresville Middle School eighth-graders Jesse Dunn and Kayla Chambers are also regular visitors.

“I see friends I don’t usually see for a month,” said Dunn, who’s been attending Lake Norman YMCA programs for the past 10 years.

Once inside the door, youth have access to four main areas: the basketball court, the gymnastics center, a group exercise room darkened to rave standards for dancing, and the commons/lobby area near the reception desk.

The atmosphere has all ambiance of a middle school dance, if it had a balance beam and a miniature stand-alone basketball goal. The popularity of the group exercise room/dance floor seems to rise and fall according to the songs the live DJ plays.

About three or four times a year, YMCA leaders add something extra to the monthly middle-school event. For example, on April 14, the YMCA will host a special Middle School Madness basketball tournament, coming off the NCAA men’s basketball tournament affectionately known as March Madness.

It’s usually one of Middle School Madness’s biggest draws of the year, according to Walsingham.

On March 10, the YMCA welcomed a live band, Young Heart, which plays Christian pop/rock. It is a group of four teenage siblings – the Ubinas family, from Newton – and they drew approval from their audience of peers.

“Every event is important to our band,” said Carlos Ubinas, who sings lead vocals and plays electric guitar. “This particular one is important to us because we get to share our mission with the kids. Our mission is basically the name of our band: Young Heart.”

Between songs in the middle of the 45-minute set, 12-year-old drummer Gabriela read scripture about a young man whose faith is rewarded by God. For a brief minute, she was able to do what no adult could, or even tried, that evening: have the undivided attention of a large group of middle-schoolers.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer:

Want to go?

Admission is $7 in advance (paid at least two hours ahead of the 8 p.m. start time) or $10 at the door. Parents have to sign a waiver for their children to attend.

Pizza is an additional $2 per slice and sodas and bottled water are $1.

On April 14, the YMCA will host a special Middle School Madness basketball tournament.

The Lake Norman YMCA is located at 21300 Davidson St., Cornelius 28031.

Info: or 704-716-4400.