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Local gymnasts, students excited to see Gabrielle Douglas in person

U.S. gymnast Gabrielle Douglas displays her gold medal during artistic gymnastics women's individual all-around competiti2012 Summer Olympics Thursday Aug. 2

U.S. gymnast Gabrielle Douglas displays her gold medal during the artistic gymnastics women's individual all-around competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

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Updated: October 14, 2012 10:44PM



GARY — Brandy Butz will have a lot of excited girls on her hands soon.

The Portage woman and coach at Indiana Elite Gymnastics in Hobart, snagged 30 out of 500 tickets to see U.S. Olympic gold-medal winning mega-star gymnast Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas at the Genesis Convention Center on Monday night, a high-profile, sold-out event sponsored by the Gary Chamber of Commerce.

Douglas, and her mother, Natalie Hawkins, a Gary native, also will be the guests of honor at a private, invitation-only congratulatory luncheon Monday at Indiana University Northwest sponsored by the Barden Gary Foundation of the Majestic Star Casino and Hotel; Blackademically Speaking, an educational company; the Foundations of East Chicago; and the city of Gary earlier in the day.

Douglas grabbed headlines worldwide this summer when she became the first U.S. gymnast to win gold in both the team event and the individual all-around at this summer’s Olympic Games in London. Douglas also was the first African-American to win the all-around event.

“We have a lot of girls that their dream is to go to the Olympics,” Butz said. “We also have girls who started in gymnastics because of Gabby. There’s a lot of little girls who totally look up to her.”

Even with 30 tickets in hand, the demand at her gym for tickets to see Douglas at the Genesis Center far exceeds the supply, Butz said.

Chareice White, corporate director of community relations and president of the Barden Gary Foundation, said the best part of the luncheon will be putting Douglas in front of about 90 students from Gary high schools applying to the Barden Foundation scholarship program for the 2012-2013 school year. The students will be applicants and current scholarship program participants.

The Barden Foundation has awarded nearly $365,000 in scholarships in five years.

The group also will host participants from Calumet High School, Thea Bowman and a group from East Chicago Central High School who are not in the scholarship program.

“We just wanted to pay honor to Gabrielle and her mother, but the most exciting part for me is for our students to be able to have this opportunity,” said White, whose family is close to Douglas’ family. “We know (Douglas) is a global young lady now, and our kids, when they see her, say, ‘If she can do that, and she’s my age, then, I can do it too.’ ”

“It’s inspirational and motivational for them.”

Douglas’ people contacted Gary Chamber CEO Chuck Hughes about returning home, and the response has been incredible, he said.

“Any time you get somebody who has made history the way Gabrielle has, people get excited,” Hughes said. “And, this is something we wanted to open up to all of Northwest Indiana.”



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