Five Questions With: Shannon Hughey Cornicelli

Shannon Hughey Cornicelli, a four-time Rhode Island Interscholastic League champion, opened her first gym in 2008 with 10 members. Nearly a decade later, her company, Dream Big Inc., boasts 700 members across three locations and continues to add programs targeting both girls and boys from youth to teen.

In 2016, she was honored by the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau for bringing business to Rhode Island and adding to the local economy by hosting the 2016 Mardi Gras Invitation.

In May, Cornicelli was named executive director of Youth Protection Advocates in Gymnastics – a recently launched nonprofit organization dedicated to building empowered gymnastics communities.


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PBN: You were recently named executive director of Youth Protection Advocates in Gymnastics, a national nonprofit. What are your responsibilities in this role?

CORNICELLI: As executive director, the duties are all encompassing. With input from our board we are creating a gymnastics club certification. This powerful tool will educate owners and coaches on the struggles of youth with social media, peer pressure, inclusiveness, eating habits and dangers in their everyday life. The certification teaches coaches a healthy and holistic way to coach while building a child’s self-esteem, value and spirit.

I am raising awareness of our nonprofit through outreach to clubs across the country. As the national sales manager for Alpha Factor, one of the top gymnastics uniforms in the country, I am able to gain access to lots of owners and coaches and spread YPAG’s message. Alpha Factor is the first visionary sponsor for YPAG and crucial in the development and ongoing execution of the organization’s mission.

Under the direction of Leslie Scott, founder of both YPAG and YPAD [Youth Protection Advocates in Dance], we have compiled a board of psychologists, nutritionists, athletic trainers, counselors and social workers who contribute to our educational certification as well as counsel any gymnast, coach or club owner in need.

PBN: What is the mission of this group and what is the timeliness of its launch given the accusations against Larry Nassar?

CORNICELLI: YPAG unites communities to educate parents, coaches and athletes on the emotional, physical and sexual safety of youths in gymnastics. We believe we must be mindful of trends in culture and media and how they influence athletes. We encourage education, awareness and advocacy that leads to a positive body image, a healthy relationship with food, empowered self-esteem, healthy management of social media, physical safety and honoring the impressionable psychological and sexual development of youth.

YPAG is a trusted resource to guide and unite our gymnastics community through the complexities of today’s gym culture. We honor that trust by ensuring no child is harmed under our leadership.

[Soon] we will have completed our certification and education manual for gym clubs throughout the country. Given the state of the sport, we feel that action must be taken immediately for any gymnasts suffering or any club owners wanting to make a positive impact on their community.

PBN: How do you hope this group improves the environment and perception of gymnastics in the U.S.?

CORNICELLI: Gymnastics clubs throughout the country are integral parts of their communities. More than 5.4 million children participate in gymnastics in the U.S. and YPAG’s guidelines will improve the way we coach, keep us aware of dangers and misbehaviors in the coaching community, and educate coaches on how to act in order to protect our youth. Clubs which undergo YPAG certification will be held to a higher standard. The YPAG seal on the gym doors will stand for change, protection, and the holistic physical and emotional growth of our precious children.

PBN: YPAG includes an advisory panel, what is the mission of this collection of gymnast experts?

CORNICELLI: Each panel member has expertise in areas that will support YPAG’s mission and provide a vehicle for gymnasts and/or parents who are in need of support.

PBN: What are YPAG’s goals in the first year?

CORNICELLI: Our immediate goal is for gym owners and coaches throughout the country to become YPAG-educated and -certified and to help those in immediate need.

Emily Gowdey-Backus is a staff writer for PBN. You can follow her on Twitter @FlashGowdey or contact her via email,