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Instructor plays big role in growth of area gymnasts

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Since returning home from Pennsylvania three years ago, Gary Stam has trained Columbus’ top gymnasts at Jody’s Gymnastics Zone.

Jody’s closed in December, but Stam still is training the town’s youth and high school gymnasts. He opened his new facility, Victory Gymnastics Academy on 150W, on March 11.

“Columbus is really well-known for its gymnastics,” Stam said. “They have a deep history here, boys and girls. When I found out that I had an opportunity to come back here, I was like, ‘This is awesome.’ I get to come back to my hometown.

“Gymnastics is a really well-known sport around here, well-respected. To be able to come back here and start with these kids and to bring them up through that tradition is just really something.”

The Stam file

Age: 52

High school: Columbus East

College: Indiana State

Occupation: Owner, Victory Gymnastics Academy, 4171 N 150W

Family: Son Caleb, parents Earl and Ruthann, brothers Scott and Keith, sisters Aleta Kiel and Angela Ballard. One of his nieces, Katie Stam, was the 2009 Miss America, and one of his nephews, Gunner Kiel, was the 2011 Indiana Mr. Football.

Stam, 52, was a gymnast and track athlete at Columbus East.

He competed in gymnastics all four years at Indiana State, twice earning team MVP honors, and then went on to coach college and club gymnastics in Pennsylvania for 26 years.

When Jody Tompkins offered Stam the chance to be the club coach at her gym, he jumped at the opportunity.

“We had been talking for the last 20-some years about when I wanted to come back and help coach,” Stam said. “My son had graduated from high school, and it was perfect timing to come back.”

Stam’s teaching ranges from “Mom and Me” classes for 6-month to 1-year-olds to age 18. He worked with some of the high school gymnasts from Columbus North and Columbus East, which finished fourth and fifth in last weekend’s IHSAA state finals. One of his pupils, East sophomore Emily Clancy, tied for third on the vault.

“I think all of our kids started with Jody and worked with the two of them,” North coach Sandy Freshour said. “I have so much respect for Jody and have known Jody for so long that I know that Gary has to be a good guy because he is such a technical person when it comes to training athletes. Although I don’t know him very well, I have all the confidence in the world in him because he was brought back here by Jody.”

East coach Nancy Kirshman, meanwhile, has know Stam since he was a gymnast for the Olympians.

“He’s always been a fine young man,” Kirshman said. “Many times, when he was in Pennsylvania, and I had a problem with gymnastics, I’d actually call him and he’d help me out. I always tried to get him to come back and help out Jody, and I was thrilled when he came back. He’s always been willing to help, and he’s been a mentor to me in coaching my girls. He’s been a great help to me for many years.”

Between the time Jody’s closed and the time Victory Gymnastics Academy opened, Stam operated the club program out of venues in Seymour and Greenwood, along with Foundation For Youth and North and East High Schools.

The week Victory opened, which was the week leading up to the IHSAA State Finals, Kirshman’s East team practiced there a couple of evenings.

“We value greatly the relationship with the club because to be competitive at the state level where all the kids are Level 9 and 10 gymnasts, that takes a lot of training early on in elementary school and junior high,” Freshour said.

“I’m hoping that Gary wants to continue the relationship that we had with Jody. We’re hoping that we can continue to work together to produce great gymnasts.”

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