Gymmies History began in May of 1982 when a local schoolteacher, Elvira Lester started the Caledonia Gym Club. Programs were offered at Centennial school and 50 children participated in the first year. For the next four seasons the club doubled their membership, operating at both Centennial and St. Patrick's schools. Several grants were successfully applied for and received to build the equipment needed to run programs.
By 1986, the club welcomed a new head coach, new to the community and ready to expand both the clubs size and specialization. "I could see a lot of potential and couldn't wait to start expanding" said Lisa Martin, current Club Director, and so the process began. Within two years, (in 1988) the membership had doubled again. But with members still on waiting lists and little opportunity for additional school time, it was time to start thinking about a permanent facility. 1990 was an important year. The club would restructure, become renamed to the Grand River Gymmies and would officially incorporate as a non-profit organization. A facility committee was struck to investigate new possibilities for renting space suitable for a gymnastics facility. Soon thereafter, the club took the big leap and rented a portion of the space at 656 Highway Six (it's currently the home of Applegate and James Furniture).
Programs were expanded to include summer programs, adult fitness, and competitive programs. The Gymmies administration was shocked to find there still wasn't sufficient space and was back into waiting lists for recreation programs. So in 1991 when the front half of the store became vacant the club quickly moved on renting it too. Now with 5600 square feet, things seemed to be all set. A new bingo license was helping dramatically with funding the rental payment and the club moved into the regional level of competitive gymnastics. High school students from McKinnon Park were using the club to train and compete, qualifying for OFSAA competition. Between the expanding daytime classes, evenings, weekends and summer programs, the club was operating six days a week, 8-10 hours per day, and 50 weeks a year.
Expanding new programs and expertise was the goal in 1993, with the addition of the Gymmies first satellite outreach program into Hagersvilles St Marys School. The program included club equipment, coaches and program instruction offered directly in their community eliminating commuting. Today, Hagersville remains one of seven outreach programs offered in Caistor Centre, Beverly, Jarvis, Ohsweken, Smithville, Carlisle and our newest sight in the Greensville, (Dundas area). Since 1993, over two thousand children have participated in Gymmies outreach programs, exposing many more youth to this wonderful sport.
However, it wasn't long before the Executive Committee of the mid nineties realized the club was becoming more diverse and administering to both the developing competitive program and bulging recreation programs was becoming a difficult challenge. The result was to split the club into 2 separate and distinct entities and thus the non-profit and fully incorporated Caledonia Gymmies emerges. And good thing, as membership was now 599 participants.
Just about the same time, the Federal Government released the new Infrastructure Fund. It was designed to download new money to each municipality to use for large community projects. With the assistance of then councilor Walt Anders and Gymmies administration would submit a proposal for consideration for infrastructure funding for a new gymnastics complex. Unfortunately many other worthy projects requiring funding preceded our project but it set the wheels in motion for an amazing partnership yet to be formulated between the Grand River Gymmies and the Town of Haldimand.
By the time the final partnership was complete, two years had passed. Hundreds of hours of investigations, master plans, proposals, meetings and negotiations would transpire but eventually a deal was struck. The Gymmies would receive a parcel of vacant land (located in McKinnon Park) in Caledonia, property tax exemption, and qualify for $80,000 from lot levy reserves (appreciation for this cannot be down played). Gymmies would raise an additional $80,000 from diligent fund raising campaigns and in the end only require a mortgage of $325,000 cosigned by the Town to construct their current 10,000 square foot facility. In return, the Town receives a state of the art recreation complex housing over 1,000 members annually free from any ongoing tax payers operational funding.
During this same time period, the youth of this community were thriving at Gymmies with new and more advanced recreation and competitive programs, governed by some of the best coaches in the province. Without question, the success the Gymmies has experienced could not have been accomplished without the amazing efforts of the following coaching consultants (to name a few): Jane Scott (former Preschool Director), Maureen Marshall (Recreation Director), Cathie Martin (who coordinates it all), Teresa Mikola (Trampoline & Tumbling Director), Louise Bottenfield (now retired Outreach Director), Christine Goulding & Katie Mancini (PreCompetitive Instructors), Jenn Kragten (Competitive Recreation), and the newest additions Mike Toke and Sabrina West (Competitive Gymnastics Directors). There is no doubt the coaches bring the single biggest component to the athletes success said Club Director Lisa Martin. Even with the best facility and administration, the coaches will make the difference for athletes at all levels and Gymmies has a great team!
So with the start of the next twenty five years in 2008, who knows what will be possible for the Grand River Gymmies and Caledonia Gymmies. An Olympian? Program & facility expansion? Who knows!! One thing they do know is that even in a small town, determination and vision of many volunteers, coaches and Executive members can go a long way. Stay tuned for more unexpected and expected successes of the Gymmies associations and thank-you to everyone in our community for making great things possible.
"To educate, instruct, develop, and promote recreational gymnastics, trampoline, tumbling, cheer leading and fitness classes to children in accordance with Gymnastics Ontario."
"To develop athletes by delivering QUALITY: programs, coaches, and training facilities so all athletes achieve their personal best."