Bellingham program uses gymnastics as a tool to ‘create elite human beings’

Program director and instructor Ricole Gallegos helps a student on the uneven parallel bars at Bellingham Bay Gymnastics.
Program director and instructor Ricole Gallegos helps a student on the uneven parallel bars at Bellingham Bay Gymnastics. For The Bellingham Herald

Bellingham Bay Gymnastics and Pre-School owner Jill Wolfson drops a thoughtful one-liner when talking about the mission of her 24-year-old non-competitive organization.

“Our No. 1 rule is to have fun,” she says. “I’m very strict about that.”

Wolfson, the director and also an instructor, and program director Ricole Gallegos have no problem showing how much fun girls and boys up through fifth-grade are having in the gym, since no more than 14 children (and sometimes fewer) are part of any class or activity.

When you see the kids in the gym, they are almost all smiling, giggling or laughing while challenging themselves in all the traditional gymnastics events.

The adults, which include seven other staffers, in the gym seem to be having just as much fun.

“We’re not a competitive program,” Wolfson says. “Our goal is to build self-esteem and self-confidence.”

Wolfson, who has a background in running, acknowledges that she was never a gymnast as a youth.

“If anyone had told me (when she was in school and college) that I would own a gym some day, I would have called them crazy,” she says with a laugh.

Gallegos, on the other hand, was “a very competitive gymnast (topping out at Level 7) and softball player” from childhood through her years at Oroville High School, near Chico in Northern California.

They both exude enthusiasm for working with young children. They accept the responsibility of being “huge role models.”

“I was originally a junior high science teacher and a camp counselor,” Wolfson says. “I saw how I loved seeing changes in kids when they gained confidence.”

Thus, she returned to college and obtained a master’s degree in exercise science from Western Washington University. The result has been untold thousands of kids gaining confidence at Bellingham Bay Gymnastics and Pre-School.

Their program tracks the school year, with fall, winter and spring schedules and summer camps.

“We always offer a free class for any child,” she says.

The three-month winter program begins Jan. 2, so now is an ideal time to enroll. Complete information is available online (BellinghamBayGymnastics.com) about classes and costs or in print format with schedules and brochures at the gym, 1414 Meador Ave., Suite H-100 in the Haskell Business Center.

“It’s always sunny in the gym,” Wolfson says. “Winter is our busiest time.”

The school-year pre-school, where Jacquie Wilskey is in her 12th year as instructor, consists of a pre-school for 3-year-olds two mornings each week and a pre-K for 4- and 5-year-olds three mornings each week, a pre-K three afternoons each week plus an enrichment class once a week for pre-K kids of all ages. Each day in all classes starts with 45 minutes of gymnastics.

The younger gymnastics groups, with sessions of either 45 minutes or one hour, are divided among mini-gymmys (1-year-olds), terrific tots (2-year-olds), super tots (3-year-olds), tater-tots (a mix of 1- to 3-year-olds), and giggle friends (4- to 5-year-olds). There are “flips” classes for children from kindergarten through second grade and “twisters” classes for those in second through fifth grades.

There is also an invitation-only demonstration team, “The Orcas,” who meet for two hours once a week.

“I believe every child who feels safe, cared for, loved and given the opportunity to take risks in a trusted environment will thrive,” Wolfson says. “In everything we do, we are working to improve self-esteem and self-confidence in every child. Gymnastics is the tool we use, but often we are not working to build elite gymnasts but we are working to create elite human beings.”

Problem solving and critical thinking are part of what they stress.

Gallegos has created a “flips” lesson plan “tailored to introducing the basic body principles of gymnastics, as well as overall body coordination and confidence. A focused skill of the week (floor exercise, beam, vault and bars) can be built upon as gymnasts progress.” Free play and games are included.

She says twisters classes have lesson plans focused on the skills of specific current classes, challenging every level of the gymnast, whether beginners or more advanced. The focus is on group-wide skill clinics designed to introduce better gymnastics skills. There are also team-building games and activities.