By Laura Gray
Wayne Evans, owner of Coach Wayne! Gymnastics in Savannah, is the first to admit that not every child is destined for Olympic greatness. But that doesn’t mean he or she can’t have fun, get in shape and become more self-confident doing gymnastics.
It was that goal – to make gymnastics fun for all kids – that led Evans to launch his own program, first in Hilton Head Island, S.C., before moving it here to his native Savannah in 2009. The main facility is located inside Savannah Mall with off-site classes offered at Fort Stewart, Charles Ellis Elementary School, SouthBridge, Savannah Country Day School, Savannah Christian Preparatory School, the Jewish Educational Alliance and in Bluffton, S.C.
Evans, 44, who began training as a gymnast in 1977 at the age of 11, offers students aged 2 to 12 a wealth of experience and expertise. He has taught lessons and led gymnastics camps and clinics across the United States and Europe. His instructional videos, including a top-selling seven-video set called Better Back Handsprings, motivational audio tape, and syndicated column, TumblingTIPS, have been enjoyed by gymnasts around the world.
Evans began training Slovakian gymnast Zuzana Sekerova in the late 1990s. She went on to compete at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia in 2000 and in Athens, Greece in 2005. She now serves as an assistant coach at Coach Wayne! Gymnastics.
In 2001, Evans became head coach of the cheerleading team at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He held that position until 2007.
Along the way, he performed as a cheerleader and a dancer for several years.
MORE THAN JUST TUMBLING
Evans credits gymnastics with giving him the physical and mental skills he needed to branch out into other activities. Now he offers the same benefits to his students – more than 250 currently enrolled at Coach Wayne! Gymnastics.
“Gymnastics is the foundation for a huge number of skills: coordination, strength, flexibility, durability. It helps students excel at whatever they do,” he says. Those skills translate perfectly into other sports, in which most of his students participate. They also learn injury prevention in gymnastics training that carries over into other sports.
“I want kids to feel very confident with the capabilities of their body,” he says. “Gymnastics helps them know their endurance limits and makes them courageous with exercise. It builds character and self-respect, as well.”
Amy Baker has seen that play out in her children’s lives. Daughter Kristen Arnaud, 12, and son Cole Baker, 6, are students at Coach Wayne! Gymnastics. They also play sports – Kristen is in soccer and Cole plays basketball.
Before they moved to Savannah, Baker says Cole competed in gymnastics in Tennessee and loved it. Although he no longer competes, Cole is happy working with Evans, she says.
“I don’t care if he competes, but I want him to advance,” she says. “They do that here at Coach Wayne’s. They work with the individual.”
Gymnastics can boost academic performance, too, according to Evans. “Students are better able to stay focused and work toward a goal,” he says.
His students learn the Coach Wayne philosophy – and recite it often during class – of “Have fun, be safe, push hard!”
STRIVING TO EXCEED EXPECTATIONS
Evans keeps class sizes small – five to seven students per coach – so they get plenty of personalized instruction. Preschoolers are encouraged to move and have fun. Once they reach age 5, they can earn points for effort, attitude and participation during class. Every 75 points they earn gets them a ribbon, which is presented to them during a ceremony. Those ribbons become prized possessions for his students.
Unlike competitive programs, Coach Wayne! Gymnastics accepts all students, regardless of their abilities. Most preschoolers attend one 35-minute class a week while school-aged students attend one 55-minute class weekly. Babies younger than 2 can attend parent-and-child classes in which Mom or Dad participates with their little one.
“I’ve seen some kids start gymnastics with no athletic skill at all and, at the end of the year, they’re first in their class,” Evans says.
“We exceed parents’ expectations,” he says. “Our preschoolers’ parents can’t believe what their kids can do. We have them jumping off heights.”
Dr. Harry Collins was definitely amazed at his daughter’s progress. Isabella, 7, takes classes with Evans at her school, Savannah Christian Preparatory, where she is in the second grade.
“We’ve been so surprised by what she can do – splits, handstands, cartwheels,” Collins says. Since she began gymnastics two years ago, Isabella has become more flexible and enjoys the exercise.
“She always wants to go to Coach Wayne’s gym,” he says. “We even had her birthday party here.”
THE COMPETITION CONUNDRUM
Competitive gymnastics seems to awaken Olympic dreams in some parents, Evans has found. When their children share that dream, the results can be “magnificent for some,” he says, “and exciting for coaches.”
When Evans comes across a student with potential, he meets with the parents first. He advises them to start competitive gymnastics training early – as young as 4 years old – and he gives them advice on how to choose the right school.
“I tell them to look at each school’s safety record, check out the facility, check the qualifications of the coaching staff and take a look at their competition history and their success record,” he says.
But the reality is, most children are not Olympic material.
“Competitive gymnastics is inappropriate for most students,” Evans says. “It’s hard on the body, it’s hard on your social life. It creates an enormous economic burden and a lot of social stress.”
THE PRICE OF SUCCESS
Evans invites kids to try a gymnastics class at his Savannah Mall gym for $1 any Saturday at 10 a.m. For a limited time, mention that you read about him in Coastal Family and try a class for free.
“Our pricing is typical at the introductory level, but we deliver so much more,” he says.
Classes range from $55 to $75 a month, depending on the options you choose. There is a one-time registration fee of $50 per family. You may register online at www.coachwayne.com or call 800-548-4545. Walk-ins are always welcome.
Laura Gray is editor of Coastal Family magazine.