Young gymnasts flip with delight over reopened facility
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
SOUTHGATE – While adults are ready to sweat off their pandemic pounds at recently reopened workout gyms, children are also eager to return to training for gymnastics, sports skills and martial arts.
Kelli Cook of Wyandotte, owner of Downriver Gymnastics, 13777 Eureka Road, in Southgate, has been anxious to reopen her facility and work in-person with her students.
The facility has been thoroughly cleaned, hand-sanitizing stations are set up, equipment is spaced out and protective protocols are in place.
Everyone who enters the facility has their temperature taken and is asked a series of health screening questions. Parent chairs in the waiting room are spaced out, and children are encouraged to keep their respective gear separated as well.
“Our building is so big, it was easy for us to do,” Cook said. “Six-foot markers are everywhere, so when the kids are waiting in line, it is easy for them to stay six feet apart.”
She said most of the equipment will not be shared during a class.
“We have enough equipment so that every child, for the duration of their class, has their own equipment,” Cook said. “We don’t have that many trampolines, so the kids use hand sanitizer before they get on.”
When other equipment, like the parallel and uneven bars, are shared, students again use hand sanitizer before they use the equipment. Coaches will help the youngest gymnasts sanitize their hands, as needed. Cleaning supplies are also strategically placed, on high shelves within adult reach, throughout the facility.
The foam pits, which would be problematic to clean, have been temporarily covered up.
Instructor Maleah Marshall, 22, of Brownstown Township, said the staff is ready for the challenges they may face with the pandemic protocols.
“The biggest challenge, for my team kids, is they are very comfortable with each other, so it will be a little bit hard to keep them social-distanced, but I know that they can do that,” she said. “The best part about being back is getting to coach them, because I definitely miss it.”
Cook said some coaches volunteered their time and worked with the competition team gymnasts online, using Zoom, to help them maintain their conditioning and muscle tone during the past six months when the gym was closed.
Despite the cancellation of the competitive season last spring during the spread of COVID-19, Cook said it was frustrating to see gymnastics centers opening back up this summer in neighboring states while those in Michigan remained closed.
“We had a lot of our athletes in Michigan that traveled to Ohio to train, because Ohio’s been open since, I think, June 1,” she said. “So, we lost an entire summer with these kids, and they have to compete against kids who have been training since the first of June.”
Cook said despite the need to play catchup, they are excited to be open again. She said she knows that people’s comfort levels will vary, so she hopes to initially see at least 40 percent of her non-competitive students return to the gym.
She said she anticipates about 90 percent of her competitive gymnasts returning soon.
“I’m hoping by January we’ll be back to 100 percent,” Cook said.
In mid-March, she said she had a staff of 42, mostly college students in their 20s, working long hours during peak competition season.
Cook said some of the higher-level competitive gymnasts have been impacted by family income loss during the pandemic.
“We have a booster club for our team, and our booster club is determined to do fundraisers so the kids can have a season,” she said. “Right now, the state of Michigan, with (restrictions on) large gatherings, we are not sure if we are going to have a season at all.”
For non-competitive gymnasts, there are currently fewer scheduled classes, and there are fewer students per class. They are also limiting each instructional area to one class at a time, to maintain social distancing.
Cook said she opened her first gymnastics facility Sept. 10, 1994, so she is happy that they are reopening in time for the center’s 26th anniversary.
“For 26 years, we ran safely, profitably and by our own standards, which we kept very high,” she said. “So, between the pandemic and government restrictions, it is like opening all over again, and having someone else write the rules.”
Cook said she is determined to reopen safely and successfully.
“These kids want to be here, and we are going to make it work,” she said. “We are going to wear masks, we are going to keep them six feet apart, we are going to clean extra, and we are going to use lots of hand sanitizer.
“We have been doing this for 26 years, and this is what we do. We keep kids safe, so, we can do this.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected])