The details are still being hammered out, but with limited gymnastics facilities in the Saline Area School system and turnover of three coaches in as many seasons, new Athletic Director Andrew Parrish presented a drastically different approach to handling the program at this week's Board of Education meeting.
The move to partner with an outside private facility was considered when Parrish started looking for a fourth gymnastics coach in the exact same mold as the previous three.
"We did have a small pool of candidates, but I got the impression we'd just be in the same situation next year, so in short we're moving the operation of the gymnastics program over to Gym America" where the athletic department will be able to maintain the "three pillars" of sustainability, consistency, and quality of coaching, Parrish explained.
Gym America is an Olympic-style gymnastics school founded in 1979 by husband and wife team Ed and Claudia Kretschmer. They have recently moved into a new facility that doubles their capacity compared to their old facility. They are now located on State Street and Hines Drive in Pittsfield Township.
With current participation in varsity gymnastics by Saline Area Schools children ranging from eight to 12 participants per season, Parrish expressed a desire to grow the program further and told the board that he believed Gym America would allow the district to avoid having to "hit reset again" and also accommodate his desired vision for the program.
"There are youth programs all day over there ... the hope is to house (our high school gymnastics program) over there and drive some interest in (it) as these youth club athletes get to the high school age," he said.
The Saline High School gymnastics facility has one of each gymnastics apparatus, while Gym America has ten beams, six sets of bars, and multiples of various other pieces of equipment which will allow the gymnastics team to achieve more practice man-hours concurrently in less time, which theoretically should make the team a stronger performer.
There were some concerns that came up, and Parrish headed some off at the pass.
He looked at other gymnastics programs in the region, such as the one in the Northville school system that was state runner-up last year and uses off-site facilities.
Parrish also highlighted Saline's ice hockey, bowling, and skiing programs that use private off-site facilities such as The Cube, Mount Brighton, and local bowling facilities in those cases.
Maria Shackley, a Gym America employee, will be paid to act as the dedicated coach for the program, according to Parrish. She will travel with the team to away meets and be present during home meets whether they're at Gym America or the high school.
While she will be focused on Saline varsity gymnastics, Shackley will be able to rely on other Gym America personnel to help guide and hone the student athletes in her charge.
"The lettering is the same, the administration is the same, the same grade checks and the same eligibility rules will be in place," Parrish said. "It's going to look and feel like any other Saline sport."
Board members expressed concern about the location of home meets given this program change.
Parrish explained that the varsity gymnastics program can have up to 15 meets a year, depending on how far they go. There are currently 10 on the schedule and three are home meets.
"We're working through that right now ... they very well may end up at Saline High, where they have been, or Gym America," Parrish answered. "We have to work through some schedules. We will have home meets no matter what."
The AD's office is still hammering out the particulars of the district's insurance for the program with this change taken into consideration. When asked about overall cost, he said that the cost different would amount to $400.
When asked about the condition and remaining longevity of current gymnastics equipment in the district, Parrish said that it was "nearing the end of its viability" and would need replacement in the near term.
"If we end up (at Gym America) there wouldn't be a reason to (replace current equipment at the school's facility)," he said.
The board also asked about screening. Shackley is screened as a Gym America employee and has also went through screening as a Saline Area Schools employee. Other coaches who may have contact with the program's student athletes are only screened by Gym America.
Parrish said the point that not all Gym America personnel who come into contact with Saline students not being reviewed by the district as all employees who come into contact with students are is "a good point" and indicated that he would look into that concern.
Saline's varsity gymnastics program doesn't have its first meet until Dec. 13, giving the district room to smooth any wrinkles and perhaps have Parrish's new approach implemented in time for next month start to the season.