Negaunee’s West End Gymnastics Center churning out champions during first year in operation

NEGAUNEE, Mich. (WJMN) – Located on Iron Street in historic downtown Negaunee, the West End Gymnastics Center is committed to providing their athletes the skills needed to reach their full potential.

“So, we have 15 kids ranging from the ages of 3 years old to 33,” said Bridget Johnson, the Owner and Head Coach at the West End Gymnastics Center. “We compete through the AAU which splits kids up from age and ability. So, you’re five year old isn’t going to be competing against fifteen year old’s. So, it’s other five year old’s with the same skills so all the kids can be successful and aren’t getting destroyed by kids with more experience.”

“What I like most about gymnastics is to come here and see all of my friends,” said gymnast, Mariah Senske. “I get new skills to go up into higher levels and have fun.”

Opening this past September, the gym has produced three AAU State Champions in the their first year of competition.

The dozens of medals that are proudly on display are proof things have been going quite well.

“None of these girls had competed in gymnastics before we started,” said Johnson. “Seeing them go from being nervous in their first meet to having girls win a state vaulting championship, we had girls win state beam championship, we have nine kids going down to Regionals in Ohio in a couple of weeks, and one of our athletes are going to Nationals in Florida at the end of June.”

Two of the nine athletes who will be representing the West End Gymnastics Center at the AAU Northern Midwest Regionals in June are Khloe Gangl and State Champion, Audrey Bolm.

“I like being with all of my friends, being able to have fun and compete with my friends,” said Gangl. “It’s made me really happy knowing I made it all the way to Regionals. Its been a lot but getting to Regionals, I’m really proud.”

“My favorite part about gymnastics is learning new skills and being able to see my friends,” said Bolm. “I’m really excited because I made it to Regionals. Last competition, I got first of Vault. So, I’m really excited to see what I can place on vault this time.”

Johnson says the growth of their gymnasts has been remarkable and the credit goes to the hard work they put in daily at practice. She admits the success is not something she was expecting when their doors first opened.

“We’re not a big gym,” said Johnson. “To be able to take these kids downstate and throughout the country to compete with kids from huge gyms, it’s amazing. When we opened in September, that is not something I even dreamed of. So, it’s crazy.”

While the focus is on ending this competition season strong, Johnson said they’re already looking forward to next year.

“We have 32 kids already singed up for our competition team next year and hopefully more,” said Johnson. “I really think our philosophy of kindness and caring makes us different. It’s not like the old gyms from the 80’s and 90’s where coaches are yelling and forcing them to do things. We are a team with our athletes, parents and coaches. It’s just a place to have fun. When kids have fun, they do awesome things.”

With things heading in the right direction, the gym is also hoping to add a new division in the Fall.

“We are also hoping to start a boys program in the Fall,” said Johnson. “The AAU does what they call the ‘Boys 4 X4’ So, they have modified boys events so they can work with women’s equipment. That helps gyms like us who can’t afford to put a full boys program on, these boys can still do gymnastics, compete, travel and have a great time.”

Whether the ultimate goal is to compete or to just have fun doing gymnastics recreationally, Johnson says the message to their athletes remains the same: Be Kind, Be Brave, Be Bold.

“We believe that every kid deserves a chance to try something hard,” said Johnson. “We don’t do tryouts, we don’t cut kids. The nice thing about AAU is it does start at 4 years old with 4 year old skills. So, just very basic stuff. Kids at every can come and be successful.”

“I like that Coach Bridget teaches us a lot of new skills,” said Gymnast, Jolie Sandberg. “She is super nice to us and she does a lot.”

With that commitment to their athletes, don’t be surprised if we see more West End Gymnasts find success moving forward.

“Just being able to go to these bigger meets is amazing,” said Johnson. “Having kids win things is just icing on the cake. We don’t send kids expecting them to win but it’s a nice bonus that hey are doing awesome. It’s for the experience, it’s to create amazing memories and to do fun things.”

Sign up for recreational and pre season team classes at the West End Gymnastic center is now open. The Summer classes start June 9 and go through August (Boys & Girls.)

If you’re interested in registration, you can email or by phone 906-251-0980.

More information can be found on the West End Gymnastics Center Facebook Page.

About Coach Bridget Johnson & River Giard:

“Johnson has been coaching youth through collegiate gymnastics and cheer for 25 years. River trained gymnastics in Las Vegas until they transition to diving in California where they were nationally ranked though out high school.  They competed D1 and D2 diving winning All American twice.”

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