YMCA takes (toy) guns from 7-year-olds after inappropriate show

Charlotte mom Dawn Van Osdell got more than she expected when she attended a holiday gymnastics performance at the Harris YMCA on Monday. We’ll let her describe the scene, but it involved 7-year-olds brandishing toy rifles. In the immediate aftermath of San Bernardino and Paris, it was unsettling. The YMCA agreed, said the presence of even toy guns at the show was inappropriate and removed them for the following five shows this week.

Here is Van Osdell’s letter to the Observer about the show, followed by the letter the Y sent to parents early this week.

If you attended last night's holiday gymnastics performance at the Harris YMCA, you saw more than a showcase of your kids’ gymnast skills. A young man dressed in combat gear took the stage and blanketed the audience – who was packed on risers in a dark gymnasium – with a toy automatic rifle. The rapid pitter-patter of gunfire boomed through the sound system. Immediately following the unexpected, unsettling experience, a gaggle of seven-year-olds, awkwardly brandishing similar weapons, marched on stage and broke into acrobatics.

The production was loosely based on a mother praying that her soldier son makes it home for Christmas. It undoubtedly required tremendous coordination and skill from both students and organizers, all of who worked hard to put on a 90-minute show after just a few months of gymnastics classes. It’s unfortunate that guns were chosen as their entertainment props, especially in lieu of the recent events we have seen around gun violence in public settings. We can’t assume our kids are too young to hear what’s happening in the world, or assume they don’t have anxiety about it. A dance recital should be a safe haven for kids – for all of us – where we don’t have to address harsh realities that we can’t change. Plus, violence for the holidays? Totally misses the mark.

The same show will run every night this week. About 1,600 local kids will participate. It’s not too late for the YMCA to revise their program. Their hard work deserves a far better response.

Dawn Van Osdell


Dear Harris YMCA Gymnastics Parents:

Thank you for choosing the Harris YMCA for your family’s activities. The Harris YMCA is committed to providing an environment where children and adults feel welcome and safe. Last night, the Harris YMCA gymnastics program presented its first of (six) shows about a soldier’s Christmas homecoming. In one of the scenes, our performers did a color guard performance with props that looked like rifles. While the intent was to display a military-like scene, the use of any weapons, even props meant to look like weapons, was insensitive and created an environment that does not reflect our commitment to our children or our families.

We are deeply sorry for our mistake and remain grateful for the community that exists within our gymnastics program.

We are incredibly proud of all of our gymnasts. We are impressed with their skill development and performances every day. Tonight’s show, and future shows, will go on, but without the use of these props. ...


Kelly Rogers

Executive Director

Harris YMCA