Athletes flip over new sports academy
By Rita Papazian
Posted: 12/04/2009

Inside one of the former industrial buildings, at 85 Mill Plain Road, the Gymnastics & Cheerleading Academy of CT has opened, a testament to the vitality and dexterity of a new generation of young people determined to push the limits of their body, mind and spirit.

The new facility is part of the 120,000 square foot indoor sports complex, Sportsplex@Fairfield, developed by Fischel Properties. It is the only local facility offering both gymnastics and cheerleading.

Within the 16,500 s.f. of space, the largest and newest facility of its kind in New England, Jane Marella, academy director and head cheerleading coach, and Craig Bayer, gymnastics team head coach, direct a staff of professionally skilled gymnasts and cheerleaders in offering classes in gymnastics, cheerleading, hip-hop and Zumba for ages ranging from 18 months to adult. The facility also sponsors competitive gymnastics and cheerleading teams.

Currently the academy's gymnastic teams range between 200 and 250 members from ages 5 to 17, enrolled in two programs for competition. One program is a vigorous Junior Olympic training track. The other is the prep-op track in which gymnasts who may participate in other sports, sign up for gymnastics to complement their sports activities. Through extensive research and on-sight visits to other facilities, the developers equipped the facility with the safest, state of the art equipment in the industry. This includes two in-ground trampolines and foam block pits and an in-ground tumble track.
The academy offers a cheerleading recreational classes and All-Star teams for ages 4 through 19. The key elements of the lessons are flexibility, strengthening, conditioning, and endurance. The All-Star teams will participate in competition locally and out of the area. The recreational classes will have an end of the year performance to demonstrate the skills they have learned throughout the year.

Marella, who has a Master's in elementary education and is a certified teacher, was a gymnast in her youth and while attending Southern Connecticut State University. She is FCIAC's 2009 Cheerleading Coach of the Year and coaches the Trumbull High School cheerleading squad.

She spoke enthusiastically about the new facility's cheerleading program that she says is unmatched locally. "The program allows for growth to the highest level. I have the ability to take students to the highest USAG level. Many of Marella's cheerleaders have gone on to national and international competitions and have earned cheerleading college scholarships."

Marella emphasized that the students who come to the Gymnastics and Cheerleading Academy for cheerleading lessons are not coming here just to cheer for sports teams but to perfect their skills, especially for competition. Cheerleading has become a recognized sport in itself for the skill sets that challenge the body and mind.

"They are strong. They are great. They do what they have to do," said Marella, whose daughter, a student at Southern Connecticut State College, is a former cheerleader and gymnast.

The basic gymnastics skills taught in the Academy's Recreational classes provide the foundation for movement in all sports. Gymnastics develops strength, flexibility, coordination and courage.

Gymnastics coach Bayer, who earned a Master's degree in education is a former collegiate gymnast, licensed pilot and scuba diver. He spent the last ten years in Eugene, Ore. working at one of the oldest and most prestigious gymnastic schools in the country. In discussing the academy's program, he emphasized the benefits of gymnastics, including the fact that the sport is a great discipline in managing time because students have to balance their academic responsibilities with their training. He said the skills transfer to other sports.

"It's a good fundamental sport that teaches balance, how to fall, and how to roll," said Bayer, noting that gymnastics students usually have good academic achievement.

"I found that members of my teams in the past have had straight A's. It teaches you to have a good work ethic. Also, he added that the sport develops students' social skills because students work with coaches, make friends and when it is time for competition they have to work under pressure." He cited the benefits that come from the ability to perform on a four-inch balance beam in front of people.

"I'm amazed at what they are able to do. They are fearless competitors," said Bayer, emphasizing the importance in teaching gymnastics safely with the proper progression so that a coach knows when the student is ready to go to the next skill level.

During a recent tour of the facility, which is air-conditioned, Bayer pointed out the safety measures and design features that maximize safety in the facility with its 21-foot ceiling height. Padding is everywhere, not only for the sports equipment but also any pole or hard-edge corner where students may fall. He pointed out the variety and range of tools to train high level skills, beginning with the foam pit for soft level work to the spring floors, spotting platforms and vault tables.

The academy facility includes a 1,000-square-foot dance room and areas for parents to watch their children practice.

The fall and winter class schedule is as follows: Movement Class for child and caregiver. Gymnastic Basics for children, ages 18 months to 3; Gymnastics and Tumbling Basics, ages, 3 to 5; Beginner to Intermediate Gymnastics for ages 5 to 7; Beginner to Intermediate Gymnastics for ages 8 to 12; Advanced Girls Gymnastics for ages 6 and up; Beginner to Intermediate Gymnastics for Teens; Beginner to Intermediate Gymnastics for ages 3 to 5; Boys Tumbling and Gymnastics for ages 4 to 6; Gymnastics Tumbling, Trampoline Skills combined with Martial Arts for boys and girls, ages 7 to 11 and also 12 plus; Introduction to Cheerleading with Tumbling for ages 4 to 6, 6 to 8, 8 to 12 and 9 to 15; Beginner to Intermediate Tumbling and Advanced Tumbling; Adult Exercise Class in Zumba and Pre-Team.

The academy is also offering birthday parties. Amenities include one hour of action-packed fun in the gym with two safety certified instructors; all paper goods; balloons for each guest; your food, beverages and cake served by staff for 30 minutes in the dedicated party room; clean-up included.

The Gymnastics and Cheerleading Academy of Connecticut is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays are reserved for birthday parties.

For more information, call (203) 610-8200 or visit