New challenges await gymnastics club
Parents and other interested persons met Thursday at the Roosevelt Community Recreation Center to discuss challenges facing the gymnastics and trampoline program now that it appears to be severing ties with the city.
Fairfield Park and Recreation director Derik Wulfekuhle and gymnastics coach Jeff Ide agreed that gymnastics and trampoline would cease to be a city-sponsored program once the club moved out of the rec center and into the former Walmart building. Ide had originally hoped to move into the new location in a matter of weeks, but he announced at Thursday’s meeting that would have to wait until June.
Jim Leahy owns the former Walmart building. His sister, Mea Lama, wife of the late Jeff Lannon who was an assistant coach with the gymnastics program, agreed to rent out the old garden center to the gymnastics club. Ide said earlier this week he had already begun moving mats to the former Walmart. However, he later learned that he will have to wait a few months to move in because Lama plans to install or remodel bathrooms in the building.
Ide is currently a city employee, but he will cease to be one on July 1, when the gymnastics program will no longer be under park and rec. That also means the club will lose its status as a nonprofit, which was particularly worrying to parents and others because obtaining grants will be more difficult.
The Fairfield Park and Recreation Foundation agreed to contribute $20,000 to the gymnastics program to go toward building a new gymnastics building. That was under the assumption that the $20,000 would represent 10 percent of the building’s total cost of $200,000. It was also done with the understanding gymnastics would remain a park and rec program.
Ide said he would still like the gymnastics program to have its own building and that he hoped the move into the former Walmart was only temporary. Wulfekuhle said he envisioned the club having its own building before he learned it would move into the former Walmart. The city council has not voted to spend any money on a gymnastics building, and Wulfekuhle said such a contribution appeared unlikely to occur in the near future given the budget constraints the city is under.
The parents are worried about losing the $20,000 from the foundation because of the uncertainty surrounding the construction of a new building and because the club won’t be affiliated with the park and rec department as of July 1. Wulfekuhle said he would speak with the foundation to see if it is still willing to contribute to the program.
Julie Silvers, who has two children in the club, said the club had secured a grant from the Community Foundation of Van Buren County. She wondered what would happen to that grant once the club loses its nonprofit status, and what the club’s prospects were for receiving other grants in the future. She said she has applied for $23,000 in grants, and listed the gymnastics club as a nonprofit organization on the applications.
Lori Vaughan, whose son is in the program, said the biggest challenge facing the club at the moment is fundraising. The club is partnering with Fairfield Rotary for an upcoming fundraiser. She doesn’t see any reason to think Rotary would end its partnership with the gymnastics club just because it will lose its nonprofit status. However, she was afraid the loss of nonprofit status would negatively affect the club in other ways.
Vaughan said she would like the club to remain a park and rec program. Wulfekuhle said he did not want the gymnastics program to remain under park and rec because concerns about the city’s liability in the event of an accident had become a headache and he wanted to be rid of that liability.
Parents asked Ide what expenses he would incur in moving to the former Walmart. He said the walls have already been painted and that he doesn’t anticipate having to do much more work before the equipment is moved in June. A few people asked what he would do about insurance once he ceases to be a city employee. He said the club has insurance under Amerikids Gymnastics, which covers the performers not just during meets but also during practice and on the way to meets.
People asked Ide if he could generate enough revenue to keep the program going for a long time. He said he had already given up his career to devote his full time and attention to gymnastics, and that there was nothing he wouldn’t do for the program. He said he’s not into coaching for the money and that the reason he coaches is to see kids feel pride in their accomplishments. Silvers and the other parents told Ide he brings out the best in their kids and that he is a fantastic coach. Their only concern was the financial stability of the program.
Ide responded to concerns over the finances by saying, “I walk by faith, and so far it’s worked.”
Ide said he would probably have to increase fees to cover some of the costs that were previously paid by the city. The gymnastics equipment is owned by the city and Ide would have to purchase that, too. He estimated the equipment was worth between $20,000-$25,000.