NEW ULM - It probably shouldn't be a surprise that in a German town like New Ulm, that there would be a gymnastics academy that would have little kids who are still mastering the basics of walking learning gymnastic moves as well.
But, that's what is happening at the New Ulm Area Gymnastics Academy which occupies three-fourths of a large building at 1221 North Front Street, and, yes, they'll take very young children.
"The New Ulm Area Gymnastics Academy is a community-based program where we have gymnastics classes for children ages 18 months through competitive teens. We also house the New Ulm Eagles which is the high school gymnastics team here in New Ulm," Cheryl MacFarlane, who doubles as academy director and coach, said.
annah Stevenson is pictured here on the beam with Coach Ashleigh Moelter (at right) is looking on. Hannah’s sister, Emma Stevenson is pictured in the background.
"You'd be surprised what an 18-month-old can learn. You know, there's straddles, tucks and pikes and some fun little games that teach them some other body positions," she said.
"The difference in New Ulm and some other gymnastics places is that even at the lower level, the very youngest children are actually learning gymnastic skills, what things are called and how to do gymnastics," MacFarlane continued.
"So, our parents here comment about how much even their little ones learn in the classes," she noted.
"Right now we have about, including high school, close to 100 families involved in our gymnastics program, and then we also offer some open gym time so that people that are not really enrolled in the classes can come and see what gymnastics is all about and have an opportunity to try," MacFarlane explained.
"We also have some day care center operators who can come in and bring the little kids. Like over the holidays, they'll bring some of their kids during non-school time."
MacFarlane, who has been on the job now for 10 months, is assisted in coaching youngsters by Ashleigh Moelter who is the academy's competitive team coach, and Kortney Peterson makes up the support staff.
As the academy is organized as a non-profit operation, MacFarlane reports to a board of directors. Carol Klimek is president of the eight-member board, and Sheila Howk is the treasurer.
The board's main task is finding funding to keep the academy going, and its next fund-raising effort is in February, a taco dinner the Friday before Lent, Howk said.
While fund-raising events like that do provide financial support, It's a never-ending battle to come up with fund-raisers that work. "That's why we're looking for businesses [that would provide a set amount of financial support each year]," Howk said.
Meanwhile, the academy maintains an ambitious recreational program schedule with classes six days a week, and three classes are offered.
They include Preschool for boys and girls age 18 months to 6 years, Girls Progressive for beginner, intermediate and advanced school-age girls, and classes for school-age boys wanting to learn gymnastic skills "with an emphasis on strength and body awareness, particularly as an endurance builder for other sports."
Ron Larsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org