To Dream a Dream and Name it . . .
It was January 1961. Snow covered the roads between New Jersey and Michigan as I drove my first car to my first teaching job in Saginaw Township. I came to do "something special" for the female athletes of the world. Although I had an extensive background working with swimmers, by 1962 I knew the "something special" was gymnastics. I also knew that developing a program in this area would be an opportunity for children of all ages and an important contribution to this community. I came from a family where contributions and community involvement were expected. Now it was my turn.
I met Tom Fry teaching at Chippewa Middle School and before long he was busy building balance beams. In August of 1963, we were married and began a "family," of middle school girls who were interested in this new activity . . . gymnastics! In those days, we learned the "hard way," because there were few mats or official equipment. So we built, we fund-raised and by 1963, we became the Saginaw Township Gym-Jesters. We are named after medieval court jesters who tumbled and entertained.
For the next 13 years we were part of the Saginaw Township Community Schools. Tom became a counselor at MacArthur High School while I taught physical education and english at Chippewa Middle and MacArthur High. When the Township's Community Education Program evolved, we moved into that relationship using several school gymnasioums to work with children of all ages and talents. The school system provided space but we provided the necessary mats, beams, bars and horses. We needed some "people horses," so our first parent booster club evolved and was eventually named the Saginaw Gymnastics Association. Our faithful parent boosters over the years literally raised thousand of dollars which helped purchase equipment. Currently, the specific purpose of the SGA is to raise funds to help competitors with their competition expenses. We also became part of the Can-Amera Games . . . a summer weekend event shared with the community of Cambridge, Ontario.
By 1978, we had 450 participants and the school district asked us to find other facilities. So we became business owners and rented 6,700 square feet of a shopping center at Center and Gratiot Roads, Saginaw Township. Eventually we were able to rent 13,000 square feet. We were financially stable and growing in numbers of participants, as well as creating some very successful competitive gymnasts.
Other things were growning too! Our personal family now included two sons, John and Scott. Although my original intent was to find ways to serve frustrated femal athletes, who lacked opportunities, boys were beginning to look interesting! Out program expanded, and by the time Scott was twelve, we had our first boys competitive team. Currently, the entire Fry family is busy teaching and coaching at Gym-Jesters. As "avocation" was fast becoming a vocation!
Our club was one of the first in Michigan. In facct the United States Gymnastics Federation, the governing body of gymnastics in America, was also chartered in 1961. Andrea Schwartz was our first collegiate athlete at michigan State University. She was followed in later years by Kit Bunker and Mary Miller. Tammy Roeske competed for Eastern Michigan, Mary Beall for Seminary College, Lisa Hillman for Bowling Green, Holly Voorhies for the University of Alabama, Laura Flecher for Central Michigan University, and Beck Hoppe at Michigan State. Almost all of these athletes received scholarships.
Our entire program, consisting of boys and girls ages one through high level competitors, now numbers over 1,000 annually. Our total program is divided into three major offerings:
- For the youngest levels is a professionally designed movement education and motor development experience. Developing a positive sense of self-esteem is the keynote of this program for children ages one through 7 1/2. Fitness, physical and group social skills are emphasized.
- Recreational gymnastics classes begin for boys and girls ages 7 1/2 and over. Patient instructors assist youngsters who learn about warm-ups, fitness skills, tumbling, trampoline, bars, beam, vault, rings, horizontal bar, pommel horse, and "pits." We even do some "bungie jumping" in our very safe, bungie training apparatus. Recreational classes are non-competitive, except for an occasional "Fun Meet Day" when youngsters may participate in fitness and skill testing.
- USGF Competitive Teams, the final phase of the Gym-Jester experience is for boys and girls. Some boys and girls seem more attuned for competitive gymnastics due to physical characteristics and their own peronal interest and commitment to the effort and time which team participation requires. Over the years, the sport has become more difficult and more challenging! Youngsters taking up the challenge quickly learn with their coaches to set goals and work through the required steps to fulfill their goals or to change the goal! These special athletes learn to budget their time and turn away from other youthful distractions; selecting to concentrate on goal achievement instead. Without question, gymnastics offers a special opportunity for parents, athletes and coaches alike.
Sometimes we are asked if we have any "Olympic" athletes in our gym. Over the past 40 years, we have had three true "elite level" athletes in our program. They were Holly Voorhies, michelle Karac and Dede Foster. Holly trained in our gym during her entire career. She achieved national recognition, won many major events and received many honors. Holly had extraordinary talent. We enjoyed many exciting moments during Holly's years, one of which was hosting the elite's National Women's Classic at Saginaw Valley's Ryder Center. The nation's top athletes of 1990 were in attendance . . . including Shannon Miller!
Our USA Gymnastics boy's teams have been on the move for several years. Although fewer boys appear to be attracted to the hard work that gymnastics offers, we have had a good number of participants. Overall, we have had a qualifer to a national training camp, participants in Regional competition and participants in AAU Nationals. Along the way several teams and individuals have won State Championship titles. Scott Fry is our boy's program coordinator and team coach. Male gymnasts peak at a much later age than do female gymnasts. Scott is always on the lookout for interested young men.
Over the years, our girls teams have won many local, state, regional and even national honors. Many Saginaw area youngsters have traveled extensively and met new friends because of gymnastics. There are too many individual persons to name, but for sure, the effort has been well worth the fun, practice, failures, and the many successes.
Someone once asked Thomas Edison why he pursued trying to invent the electric light bulb. Didn't he know man was destined to light the world with kerosene lamps? Edison replied, "young man, I already know 5000 reasons why this electric light bulb will not work. I am that much closer to making it work." Gymnastics is much like Edison's successful light bulb. It may take 5000 or more tries to make it work. Those who persevere succeed! Sometimes gymnastics takes a beating in the media. Are we pushing our kids too hard? I think the truth is that when human beings stop asking themselves to set goals and willfully take the appropriate steps to achieve those goals in an effort to achieve their very best, we are truly in trouble! A race toward mediocrity leads nowhere! Gymnastics offers our youth the chance to establish plans and develop the will power to move through the plan. A study among 1977 Yale graduates showed that only 3% accomplished more than the remaining 97% put together. We encourage developing the spirit to excel.
We have a commitment to young people. This is why Gym-Jesters exists. This program represents my personal Mission and commitment to children, parents nd young people. Our current 18,500 square foot facility is a gift through which we can accomplish some of the miracles of life. I believe I speak for our current staff of twenty-three. We do whatever necessary to work toward excellence. Personal success is a worthy goal.
Some early Gym-Jesters pictures (thanks to Kathy Miller for these!):
Gym-Jesters Team: 1965
Gym-Jesters Team: 1966
Gym-Jesters Team: 1968
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