After training and coaching in Edmonton with the Maple Leaf Gym Club, I moved to Bonnyville in 1976, and for the next three years, tried to convince the Arts and Recreation department in Bonnyville that there was an interest, if not a need, for a gymnastics club. This was a tough sell for a town that was a strong supporter of hockey, baseball, and dance….they did not see that there was an interest, none the less a need to offer another sport program. After much deliberation, the department relented, and I less was finally granted the use of the BCHS gymnasium for 2 hours on Saturdays, to offer classes for 24 pre-registered beginner gymnasts(probably to get me off their backs and out of their offices). On the first day of classes, working with minimal equipment 174 kids turned out with their parents to register. Unable to handle that number of aspiring athletes by myself, I enlisted 2 parent volunteers(Marge Poirier and Diane Straile) as junior coaches. Marge continued to coach and specialized in vault, until her job transferred her away from us in the early 1980’s. Diane coached for over 15 years, taking over as head coach in 1988 when I moved to Red Deer.
The number one rule for many years was there was no such thing as “I can’t”. Anyone who came out with those words was subject to extra push-ups, sit-ups or laps. We did not accept defeat…success was only 10% talent and 90% heart. Perfection was demanded, especially with the basics and our kids rose to the challenge. Working on the merit badge system, anyone who was awarded a badge had EARNED it. Three years after the inception of the club,, the first group of athletes were sent to the University of Alberta for summer training. Athletes were to register based on their current level, and it was soon apparent to the coaches in Edmonton if the athlete came from Bonnyville they needed to be placed two levels higher in order to be in a suitable training class.
From the beginning, the lack of suitable equipment was an issue that parents solved by working bingos, fundraisers and applying for grants in order to obtain even the basic items. Once suitable equipment was purchased the recreational program expanded to include a competitive program. Each gymnasts in this program took advantage of road trips to Red Deer for additional training with higher level coaches and equipment, and began attending meets across northern Alberta. The dedication of the gymnasts and their parents was exceptional and the addtion of a dance instructor Danita Smith(former gymnasts and coach) helped the athletes to excel on another level. Danita continued to coach into the 1980’s and still lives in the Bonnyville area.
Coaches and competitive athletes were given courses in sport massage and coaches were trained in sports medicine. All the training helped in the prevention of injuries and rapid recovery from any injuries that did happen. Since hand-guard were a rare commodity at the time the most common injury was tearing the blisters on hands while working on the uneven bars. The girls were told an old remedy to healing faster was to pee on their hands(uric acid would cauterize the wound). One of the girls who tore a hand decided to try the remedy, and immediately disappeared to the washroom. When she came out whe was thoroughly disgusted. Whe asked if it was all that bad, and did she remember to wash her hands after, she replied, “It wouldn’t have been half as bad if I didn’t pee on the wrong hand first!” And yes she washed her hands after.
When I left Bonnyville in 1988 the club was only a year or two away from purchasing their own building and new equipment to fill it. Although I was not around to see this, I am still very proud of the fact that the sport that was never supposed to be part of Bonnyville is still here, and still doing so well.