Williamsburg Gymnastics has roots dating back in the early 70s and generations of gymnasts have gone through the program. Over the past year though, the organization has settled into a new home, launched a few new programs, and now sees parents as well as kids coming to hit the mats and learn a few new tricks.
Started in 1973 by Cliff Gauthier, the former gymnastics coach at William and Mary, Williamsburg Gymnastics began as a recreational gymnastics program held on Saturdays. After Peter Walker, a former W&M gymnast was named an assistant gymnastics coach at the college, he took over Williamsburg Gymnastics and began the long process of turning it into a proper youth program.
More than 20 years later, Williamsburg Gymnastics offers a range of programs for boys and girls from age 2 through high school, as well as fielding both men’s and women’s competitive teams. Walker says the key to that success is to focus on the kids and what they want to get out of the sport.
“We still see ourselves as a mom and pop operation, we try to get to know not only the kids, but their families. We know everyone that comes into our gym, and try to help them attain their goals, whatever they may be,” Walker said. “It’s funny now because, after all these years, we’re not only seeing the kids of former students take lessons here, but the parents in our adult classes seeing if they can still move like they used to.”
After sharing gym space with William and Mary for decades, Williamsburg Gymnastics opened its own 16,000-square-feet facility on Tewning Road in May 2018, and started several new programs, including a Cheerleader/Tumbler class and strength and conditioning class. Today, there are almost 300 kids participating in the club’s various programs.
One of those gymnasts is York High School junior Sawyer Czupka, who has been going to Williamsburg Gymnastics for five years.
“I always had a trampoline in my yard, and I did some recreational stuff when I was younger, but they didn’t have any higher level classes for boys,” said Sawyer. “When I was 11 or 12, my family found out about Williamsburg Gymnastics, and I’ve been here ever since, it’s a very well-run program.”
All the program’s coaches are former gymnasts, which makes a difference in training in an age when anybody can open a gym, but just as important is the presence of a strong boys gymnastics program.
“When you go to most programs, many of them don’t handle both men’s and women’s gymnastics programs, they cater to women’s and recreational programs, with boys maybe being a sidebar,” said Walker.
“When we started this program, we wanted it open to everyone, and made boys programs just as much of a focus as anything else, and otherwise, some of these kids would have to go as far as Richmond or Virginia Beach for something similar.”
While some former gymnasts from the program have gotten into college gymnastics programs, including several attending Virginia Tech and the University of Mary Washington — with one involved with club gymnastics in Japan — you see just as many applying what they’ve learned to other sports, such as one who recently became a diver at George Mason.
That crossover isn’t too surprising — even if kids don’t stick with gymnastics in the long term, it lays a strong foundation and trains a skill set that comes in handy in a range of other sports, be it track-and-field, wrestling or cheerleading.
“Gymnastics has something for anybody, whether you’re a beginner or on a more elite track, an athlete looking for some greater flexibility, or someone just looking to keep in shape or learn a few things, the sport has a lot to offer,” said Walker.
“Gymnastics is a great foundation sport because even if you don’t stick with the sport, the flexibility and control you lean can be applied in so many other ways.”
For some of the kids, it's a fun way to spend a summer afternoon, or for a cheerleader or pole vaulter to do some extra training. For other gymnasts like Sawyer, the challenges that come each time they hit the mat is all they need.
“It’s very physical in an interesting way, and you can always see yourself progressing with what you’re doing, getting stronger and working toward newer skills,” he said. “If I’m feeling overwhelmed at home or school, I can just come here and hit the mats for a couple of hours, get a great work out in, and that’s just what you want from a sport.”
Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.