ASU gymnasts support gymnastics center in low-income area

Children run and laugh as they start to warm up for gymnastics class. A few minutes later, the coach begins to lead stretch while the parents watch their children with proud smiles. This is the atmosphere at Phoenix Athletic Center Gymnastics and Wrestling, the first gymnastics center in Laveen.

When it opened in 2009, it was solely a wrestling center. However, after speaking to different families in the Laveen area, owners Veronica and Steve Mene began to express interest in adding gymnastics to their wrestling program.

After conducting more research, they realized many parents traveled 40 minutes to an hour for gymnastics classes because there was not a local gymnastics center in Laveen. Not long after that, they added a gymnastics page to their website. Without advertising, the gymnastics page had 800 hits within the first week.

“We took that as a sign the community interest was definitely there,” Veronica Mene says.

The gymnastics center has brought gymnastics to an area where the sport did not previously exist, she says. Most parents have a similar story. Their children could not participate in gymnastics because it was too expensive or the parents work schedule did not allow them to drive across town, she adds.

Phoenix Athletic Center Gymnastics and Wrestling has given parents a solution to this problem. 

“We offer quality coaching by highly trained and quality gymnastics, most of whom are Arizona State University Club gymnasts,” Veronica Mene says. “The response to the gym has been enthusiastic. Our first classes started in early September, 75 percent of which filled immediately.”

The gym had to add several more classes and find more coaching staff to meet the demand. Veronica and Steve Mene decided not to pay for advertising and rely on word of mouth from satisfied parents instead.

“We see the gym continue to grow and expand," Veronica Mene says. 

Phoenix Athletic Center Wrestling and Gymnastics is now beginning to offer more advanced classes. They will also be adding a competitive gymnastics team.

“It is an honor to be apart of a new club and be able to share my gymnastics knowledge with people who have little to no experience with it,” says Gabby Hughes, a gymnastics coach at Phoenix Athletic Center Wrestling and Gymnastics. 

Hughes is also a freshman member of the Arizona State University Gymnastics Club.

"The children have a strong will to learn," Hughes says. “In the future, as the gym grows, I see the gymnasts learning to their full potential."

Amanda Foster is a junior studying journalism and mass communication at Arizona State University. She is also a member of the Arizona State University Gymnastics Club and a coach at Phoenix Athletic Center Wrestling and Gymnastics. 

Even though I do not have all the equipment traditional gyms have, it is still exciting to see the girls progress on the mini beam, Foster says. 

"I see confidence and enthusiasm in many of them," Foster says. "Depending on the age group, you can really see potential in a lot of the kids."

Approximately 17.82 percent of Laveen residents, 25 years or older, did not graduate high school. Ten percent of residents live below the poverty line. In fact, 12.78 percent of local households earn less than $25,000 a year, according to a 2010 Census.

“We’d also love to find a corporate sponsor willing to offer scholarships to help pay the cost of tuition for are children whose families can’t afford the monthly fee,” Veronica Mene says.

Veronica Mene says the gym has already submitted several grant applications asking for matching funds or scholarships for those who cannot afford to participate in the gymnastics classes.

“If the children are dedicated to the sport, the opportunities are endless for them,” Hughes says. 

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