Teresa and Frank Yapps, owners of the Harford Gymnastics & Dance Training Center in Joppa, are constantly rewarded for their perseverancein sustaining the club since it opened 12 years ago.

Frank had become tired of dealing with a lack of equipment in recreation programsin Westminster, and, in 1979, moved to the county and turned an old 33- by 50-foot storage building into the first club with 30 children in the program.

Today, the Yapps are way past the development stage; they moved the club to a 6,600 square-foot gym in 1985 and now handle 900 gymnasts.

The independent club is the only such facility in Harford County and one of just 25 in the state.

Frank has been coaching for 25 years. Along with working at the club, he teaches physical education at Perry Hall Middle School. He hopes his love of coaching has a positive effect on his students.

"It's exciting to me to see somebody learn a new skill and to see how they react in competition and under pressure," he says. "To me, that's enjoyable."

Independent clubs are backed by two governing gymnastics bodies, the United States Gymnastics Federation and the United States Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs.

If you've ever seen a gymnastics meet on television, you've probably been astonished by the flexibility, stamina and pure gracefulness of the gymnasts on the floor equipment.

At the Harford club, these are the skills certified coaches work on with the students.

On a recent night at the club, children in the competitive (compulsory) and non-competitive programs practiced their moves.

Teresa Walstrum, a coach at the club for seven years, sat her level 5 and 6 competitive teams down and had these inspiring words to say: "Set yourselves to what you want to learn and go for it. You've got to be brave. That's what gymnastics is all about."

One of the main objectives of the club is to produce winners, not just on the exercise floors and the parallel bars, but also in life, saythe Yapps.

Theyspread the workload among three full-time employees, an office manager and 16 part-time instructors.

John Walstrum, Teresa's husband, has been teaching at the center for three years. Just recently, he was named Coach of the Year. Both competed in gymnastics in college.

The key to success? Hire good coaches, says Teresa Yapps.

The Yapps were both outstanding high school gymnasts. Frank won a scholarship to Temple University and Teresa won one to Towson State University,which has been nationally ranked the past two years.

Some students, including Cassie Demastus, 8, from Upper Falls, and Rachel Smedley, 11, from Delaware, travel long distances for instruction at the club.

"I think most of the time they're interested in what's best forthe kids," said Shelley Demastus, Cassie's mother.

A stone driveway leads the way to the gym, located about one mile off of Whitaker Mill Road. There is open acreage surrounding the building, once part of a campground. Screen doors are still used to let in fresh air.

Inside, the gym is arrayed with balance beams, crash mats, parallel bars and a floor exercise mat. American flags and gymnastics banners hang from the walls, welcoming students and competitors.

The center offers pre-competitive and competitive programs. Competitive, or compulsory, gymnastics programs begin at Level 5 and go through Level 10.

The tumble bee program, (for children 1 through 5 years of age) has about 350 children enrolled. A dance studio was added three years ago.

At the highest level of training is the elite program. Becky Robinson, 13, of Forest Hill, is one of only five gymnasts in Maryland to have reached this level.

Becky has already qualified for the elite nationals and has a chance to make the elite junior team.

"Our goal with Becky is to get her to the U.S.A. Championships, which is the top meet in the country," said Teresa Yapps.

Some other promising students are Jessica Binder, of Perry Hall; Amanda Naworol, of Bel Air; Tracy Wolf, of Fallston; Rachel Robinson, of Forest Hill, all members of the Junior National Elite developmental team under the USAIGC.

A lot of parents may be concerned about the safety of the gymnasts as they flip and fly through the air. But, says Frank Yapps, nothing could be further safer.

"It's probably safer there (the center) than it would be for a kid on a playground."


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