Friday nights at Diamond Willow Middle School are always busy for the Ponoka Gymnastics and Trampoline Club. On the balance beam — Tessa Johnston

Ponoka gymnasts looking for permanent home

For the Ponoka Gymnastics and Trampoline Club, home is where the pommel horse sits — but it’s only for a few hours on a Friday night. The club is pushing for a permanent, multi-purpose gymnasium in Ponoka

By Dale Cory

The gymnasium floor at Diamond Willow Middle School was a beehive of activity on this particular Friday evening.

In one area, girls attempt to keep their equilibrium in check — righting themselves from falling off — while walking across a balance beam.

Surrounded by blue mats in the middle of the gym floor, head coach Nola Thompson lends support to girls performing backflips, ensuring they are not injured by falling on their heads during this learning process.

Perched on top of a pommel horse is coach Jaylene Fenske, who is busy helping girls achieve and hold a headstand.

When it’s time for the many classes to finish up each Friday evening, parents take to the floor— not to attempt the Korbut Flip — but to fold up and pack up all of the gymnastics apparatus for transport into a storage area at the far end of the school. It takes an hour and a half every Friday night to set up and take down. Over the 20 weeks the club operates, it pays out $2,000 to $2,500 in staff wages, school rental, and extra janitorial fees for opening and closing the school. There’s also the fact the equipment is wearing down much quicker because it is getting moved around so frequently.

All of this activity was in sharp contrast to what was talking place a few nights later at an executive meeting of the Ponoka Gymnastics and Trampoline Club. It’s safe to say this group of hard-working parents had not envisioned their volunteer time would consist of deep discussion with the club’s lawyer via conference call — laying the groundwork on plans for a new home for the gymnastics club.

“It is very important for the gym club to have its own building because it would allow gymnasts to learn more, as they would have more practice time. It would let gymnasts go into more competitions and would help keep our local children from having to leave Ponoka to train at another gymnastic facility in another town,” insists club president Lavern Hooper. “With our own building we would be able to have classes for pre-school children, as well as a place for seniors to exercise when the weather does not allow them to be outside. The Ponoka Gymnastic and Trampoline Clubs dream would be to have a running track, as we also want to make this a multi-purpose facility that would help the whole community.”

To understand the current situation, one must first sit through a quick history lesson.

Gymnastics started in Ponoka in 1963 at St. Augustine School by Nick Kohlman. The first club president was Dunc Grant Sr. Kohlman taught the gymnastic program for many years at the elementary school until he retired in the late 1990s.

In March of 2006, Grant and Kohlman come to a board meeting after hearing the club needed a new home. Grant came to the table offering the gym club $200,000 for a permanent building that would carry his name. The club has until fall of 2011 to use this money.

“He stated he wanted to help those who were willing to help themselves and he wanted to have something for kids to do and to keep them off the streets. He wanted to provide a safe environment for kids to be active in. And he wanted a legacy left for his family,” recalls Annette Fenske, the club’s past president.

The good thing is — the club has money to put into a new building, and a spot has been earmarked. But decisions must be made and an agreement with the Town of Ponoka must soon be signed or that money may be lost to the club.

According to Nola Thompson, a permanent gymnasium would play a leading role in increasing membership.

“I think it is important to the club to get this permanent facility for several reasons. Many people have put a lot of time and effort into getting a facility, and this should not be overlooked or wasted,” believes head coach Thompson. “Coaches and parents are tired of having to spend time and energy on setting up the equipment. It is difficult work and very time consuming. I think we would keep kids coming back each year if parents didn’t have to do so much work. As well it would be easier to get and keep coaches if we could offer more.”

The Ponoka Gymnastics and Trampoline Club currently has 123 members — ranging in age from three to 17 years, with 40 per cent being boys. There are 17 preschool kids ages, 20 kids in trampoline and tumbling, and the rest in recreational gymnastics.

The club obviously feels that number would increase dramatically if it had a permanent gymnasium.

“Having a facility would allow more children to be involved in gymnastics and trampoline. Right now we are limited only having the school gym one day a week. We could offer more classes — meaning more children being active,” added Thompson. “We could also offer more variety in our programs. We could add classes for parent and tot, preschool, and teen and adult, as well as rhythmic gymnastics, competitive gymnastics and trampoline.

“The quality of our programs would also increase. With a full-time facility it would be easier to train up new coaches as well as retain the ones we currently have.”

As for the discussion on a permanent building, the Town of Ponoka is looking at the latest proposal from the gymnastics club, which contains plans for a permanent gymnasium adjacent the former water treatment plant located in the northwest corner of Ponoka.

The new community centre, which would be known as Hudson’s Green Community Activities Centre, will be on the agenda at a meeting at town hall in the near future.

If an agreement is reached, ground would soon be broken, and the Ponoka Gymnastics and Trampoline Club will have a home to call its own.

The club is continuing its efforts to raise money and will host a major fundraiser Nov. 27 at the Ponoka Legion.

“It is going to be a night of fun with three purposes,” says Heather Bendera, a member of the executive who is the fundraising organizer. “It is hoped the fundraiser will raise a large sum of money for the club. Secondly, we hope it will bring awareness to the area about The Ponoka Gymnastics and Trampoline Club and what we can offer the community. And the third goal is for it to be an enjoyable night of fun.”

The club will hold a gymnastics demo from kids and coaches, there will be a silent auction, a dinner, and entertainment by the 404’s improv comedy group. Silent auction items include donations from the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, WEM family passes, Edmonton Rush tickets, Alberta Steam Train in Stettler, a night and breakfast at the Black Knight Inn and several contributions from local businesses.

For more information: contact Lavern Hooper at 403-783-3685 or Annette Fenske at 403-783-6724.