Illinois alum finds new ways to stay involved in gymnastics

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Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Gymnast Brandon Ngai poses after finishing a routine during competition in the 2017-2018 season. Ngai has now graduated from the University but found ways to maintain involvement in the sport.

By Bradley Zimmerman, Staff Writer

Despite being retired from gymnastics as an athlete and now working full time, Brandon Ngai, who graduated in May, stays involved with the sport.

After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 2018 and his master’s degree in May 2020, Ngai started his post-athletic involvement as a judge for junior competitions and Illinois’ routines in practice, though he has since expanded his involvement to NCAA meets as well. He judged two events during Illinois’ meet against Ohio State on Jan. 23 and is scheduled to do so again for Illinois’ meet against Nebraska in March.

With the advent of virtual gymnastics meets this season due to COVID-19, Ngai found other ways to stay involved with broadcasting and sports commentary. Using video feeds of the competitions from the streaming platform Virtius, Ngai produces his own streams on Twitch, offering play-by-play commentary and color analysis.

“Gymnastics is something that I’ve always wanted to stay in the loop with,” Ngai said. “I’m pretty busy with other things that are going on, but I’ve always wanted to have what I guess you can call part-time involvement in the sport in some way, something I can do on the weekends. I feel like judging and broadcasting meets fits into that perfectly. It’s a really fun thing to do, and I don’t mind spending my free time giving back to the sport.”

The inspiration for Ngai’s streams came from Illinois assistant head coach Daniel Ribeiro. Only a few days before Illinois was scheduled to face Northern Illinois in the NCAA’s first-ever virtual meet, Ribeiro asked Ngai if he could produce a stream that offered commentary on the meet. Ngai delivered on the request.

Brandon Ngai performs his pommel horse routine during competition. (Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics)

“I already had a pretty decent computer setup at home,” Ngai said. “I play some video games, and I work from home as well, so I was pretty well-equipped to do it. I kind of scrambled to get something together in the next couple of days and tried to make it look nice.”

Ngai works with the College Gymnastics Association, or CGA, to promote the streams through social media, and the result has been a success. Ngai’s audience typically includes gymnasts from the competing teams who aren’t in the lineup, gymnasts’ families, gymnasts from other schools and fans of the teams or the sport itself. Ngai hopes to expand his audience beyond that to viewers who don’t have a background in gymnastics.

While staying involved in the sport was the primary motivation for Ngai to produce the streams, there are a few other reasons he puts in the effort to make the streams happen and make them look presentable.

“One of the main issues of gymnastics is that it can be pretty hard to keep track of where you can watch the meets,” Ngai said. “Some of them are streamed through platforms like (Big Ten Network+), and some of them aren’t streamed at all. There’s not one centralized location where you know you can have a good viewing experience. With the virtual competitions, there’s an opportunity to offer a consistent, well-put-together broadcast, which is what I really try to do.”

The current state of the sport is another reason. More than 92% of collegiate men’s gymnastics teams that were active 50 years ago have been discontinued, with only 15 teams left today. In the next two years, three teams — Iowa, Minnesota and William & Mary — are discontinuing their men’s gymnastics teams because of COVID-19.

“At this point, I think it’s really important for people like alumni and other people who are engaged with the sport to continue to support the sport in different ways,” Ngai said. “For me, with some of the skill sets that I have, I’m trying to do that in the best ways that I can.”

Ngai’s streams are free to watch, but he does accept donations from viewers to support his channel. Ngai donates half of the proceeds to the CGA to support it and the sport.

“It’s been exciting to see the generosity from the audience members,” Ngai said. “We’ve been able to raise several hundred dollars that otherwise wouldn’t have been generated.”

Ngai’s live streams can be viewed on Twitch, and he announces through Twitter and Instagram which meets he will stream and commentate on.

@B_radZimm

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