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A place where gymnastics comes with support
It’s not Toddlers in Tiaras. And it’s not Friday Night Tikes. Far from it.
In fact, Cascade Elite Gymnastics West is the polar opposite of places where yelling and demanding kids compete and win are the mode of operation.
“My philosophy has always been that this should be a place where kids can learn in a fun and supportive atmosphere,” said Frank Lee, owner of Cascade Elite Gymnastics West (CEGW). “We’re about families and supporting each other. We want the kids to learn and perform and compete. But we do it in a way that makes everyone feel they are succeeding.”
Frank opened CEGW in April of 2012, after having had another gymnastic club in Mountlake Terrace. He came to Kitsap County because he found that there wasn’t a gymnastic club here with the family atmosphere that he thought was so important.
Four families went together and invested in the club which is currently located at 5600 Kitsap Way in Bremerton.
One of those families is the Millers. Melissa is the chief of operations for CEGW, and her twin daughters, Ally and Gabby, age 12, are students at the club. Their roots in gymnastics go way back.
“I always loved gymnastics when I was a kid,” said Miller. “So after I had the girls I went to a ‘Mom and Tot’ gymnastics class. The girls seemed to really like it. So we just stuck with it.”
That was in Connecticut, but the Millers moved to Kitsap County nine years ago when her husband was assigned to Bangor. He serves in the Navy.
“I tried the girls in other things, like ballet and soccer,” she said. “But they always came back to gymnastics.”
And when they relocated to Kitsap County, Miller was wanting a supportive gymnastics club, but wasn’t really finding one. That’s when she met Frank Lee and the other families and they struck out on their own.
Currently the club has more than 300 athletes that participate in its offerings. There’s gymnastics for girls and a couple of classes for boys. There’s cheerleading classes, dance, KungFu, Zumba and Cross Fit available at the gym, too. Classes are open to boys, girls, and some are for men and women. Memberships begin at $46 a month.
But the true focus is to help young girls gain confidence through gymnastics.
CEGW offers competitive gymnastics from levels 6 to 10. There are levels from 2 to 5 which are for students who don’t want to compete. Each level includes a skill set that is mastered before the student moves up. When students get into the higher levels, they are offered the opportunity to compete in meets throughout Washington state and the nation.
“It’s important to give them exposure to the competition,” said Miller. “Especially if the student’s goal is to compete in nationals.”
The club had several students compete at the national level last year and at least two placed among the top performers.
A dozen coaches help teach at the club, Miller said.
“The difference with our coaches, as compared to other gyms, is that they are older and more mature,” she said. “ They really work with the girls on skills. And they have the experience to be patient with the girls.”
“There’s no yelling in our gym,” he said. “We nurture and challenge our students. There’s no negative coaching here.”
That’s what attracted Rachel Higgins, of Poulsbo, to bring her daughters Abigale, 7, and Caitlin, 4, to Cascade Elite.
“The caring environment and their professionalism — that’s why I chose to come here,” Higgins said. “I like that they don’t show ribbons and trophies all over the place. It’s more about having fun and building a team relationship.”
Student Lauren Schmeiss, 17, a junior at Crosspoint Academy in Bremerton, said she finds the atmosphere to be a healthy one.
“Everything is very positive here,” she said. “The coaching is about building us up, not tearing us down. Other places I’ve been, they got me to do things because I was almost scared of the coaches and afraid not to do things. But at Cascade, I’m performing because I want to accomplish things for myself.”
Another aspect of CEGW is that it’s a community, Lee said.
“The families that come here are friends,” he said. “They cheer each other’s children on. They want everyone to succeed.”
And he said, they do community activities together, such as food drives for area food banks, and “adopting” a submarine to support the local Navy.
“Building good citizens is important to us,” Lee said. “We use gymnastics as a tool for that. We’re not just here to teach them to do a cartwheel. We want them to learn life lessons.”
Lee, a former college gymnast, is a graduate of the University of Washington. In 2000, he helped coach the U.S. gymnastics team for the Olympic Games. He has a number of championships to his credit and he is a member of the U.S. Gymnastics Association.
He puts his heart into working with every students, Miller said, whether it be a beginner or a student aiming at a national title or college scholarship.
“This isn’t about winning,” Miller said. “Frank sets the mood and he wants this place to be motivational and a means of reaching better fitness for anyone who is a part of it.”