last tumble for gymnasts at asphalt green News

| 11 May 2015 | 05:32

When one of the coaches with Asphalt Green’s youth gymnastics program called a parents meeting in the final week of April to discuss changes for the upcoming season, nothing about the meeting seemed alarming.

“I didn’t even come because I didn’t need to hear exciting, happy news,” said Beth Barron, whose 12-year-old son Robbie is on the boys team.

But the following morning, an email from one of the team’s coaches made the cause of the meeting plain: Asphalt Green was eliminating the gymnastics program, making the current spring session the last for both the boys’ and girls’ teams.

“We waited a day (to tell our children),” said Ilene Moore, whose son Myles has been with the program for eight years. Her daughter Ruby also takes gymnastics lessons at the facility. “I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I think he’s still crying. He normally goes to bed at 9:30. He was up until midnight crying. Just sobbing. We couldn’t stop it.”

When the news settled in that the entire gymnastics program at Asphalt Green’s George and Annette Murphy Center on E. 90th Street, near East End Avenue, was cut, parents acted swiftly, sending emails to the program’s administration and calling Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s office, in hopes of reinstating the program.

Parents said they were puzzled, especially since the teams medaled at a recent statewide meet. Others expressed concern that they weren’t involved in the conversations about the future of the program their children have dedicated themselves to for years.

“It feels in complete contradiction to their warm and fuzzy branding,” said Diana Correa-Cintron, whose sons Andres and Diego are on the team. “They’re really a corporate machine, so if it’s not convenient or they have another idea of what they want to do, they’ll just get rid of the program.”

Jeff Ward, chief program officer for Asphalt Green, said that the elimination of the program has been discussed by the administration and board of directors for years.

“It’s a space challenge more than anything else,” said Ward, sitting on a picnic bench outside the sports complex. “We think we can use the space to serve more kids and to serve kids in a better way.”

Gymnastics has been a staple of Asphalt Green’s youth sports offerings for many years, with about 300 kids currently in the entire program, and 36 members of the boys’ and girls’ competitive travel teams.

But executive director Maggy Siegel said that participation in the program, unlike soccer and martial arts, has dwindled in recent years, a trend that mirrors national interest in the sport, she said.

“I know it’s the right decision for Asphalt Green,” said Siegel, whose own children, now in their 20s, took gymnastics at the facility. “That doesn’t make it any less painful.”

Gymnastics, Ward explained, requires a large amount of space for the hefty equipment, and currently takes up a whole room on the second floor of the facility, which is filled with Crayon-colored mats, balance beams, bars and rings. A 44-square-foot movable tumbling floor for the girls’ team goes down on top of the fourth-floor basketball courts twice a week.

“It’s very limiting,” he added. “When you have the gymnastics equipment down, largely you can only use that space for gymnastics.”

In August, Asphalt Green will convert the fourth-floor gym into a multi-sport indoor turf field, which Ward said may allow Asphalt Green to double its programming in that space. The facility partnered with the nearby Convent of the Sacred Heart girls school to use its gym for the basketball program; similar attempts were made to move the gymnastics program to a nearby school gym, Ward said, but he couldn’t find a space to accommodate the large equipment. Asphalt Green will work with children and coaches to find alternative programs, and donate the gymnastics equipment, some of it newly purchased in the fall, to the teams, should they find a facility to host them.

The second-floor space, occupied entirely by gymnastics equipment, will become a multi-purpose, mostly open floor for training and various activities, such as martial arts, which, though it doesn’t have many more participants than Asphalt Green’s gymnastics program, has tripled in size since 2012. Ward expects to install a balcony in the second-floor room for weight training. Though he’s not yet sure of the exact cost of the project, he expects that some support will come from fundraising efforts, along with funds from Asphalt Green’s capital operations budget. Ward said that, though these changes will maximize the use of the space, the decision to eliminate the gymnastics program was not revenue-driven at its core.

“My guess is in the first year it’s probably revenue-neutral,” he said. “I think down the line we may make more money, but that is not what we’re trying to do. We’re going to be able to serve a lot more people.”

But that explanation has done little to assuage the disappointment felt by young gymnasts and their parents, who worry that alternatives will be too costly or too far away. Chelsea Piers has a boys gymnastics team, but for most Upper East Side residents, the commute to far west Chelsea is arduous and time-consuming, especially when practices take place four days a week, for two hours each. (For girls, options are more available, with the 92nd Street Y and Elite NYC offering programs on the Upper East Side).

“You have children here now,” said Barron. “Why don’t you take care of the children you have, instead of wondering about some imaginary group of people who may or may not exist, who want to use your facility? That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

For the children who have spent years training at Asphalt Green, traveling with their coaches to meets and sharing hotel rooms with teammates, their bonds with one another might be tested.

“I was heartbroken because I’ve been going here for so long that (my coach) is like almost my second father,” said Robbie Custodio, 12, who has been with the program for six years. “He’s basically been there with me my whole life, so when I found out the gymnastics program was being cancelled I thought I would never see him again.”

And the young athletes who have spent years honing their skills aren’t interested in soccer, baseball or another sport they’ve never tried.

“I’ve been working really hard,” said Andrew Shaz, 10, after a recent evening practice. “Before I go to another gym and while I have these people helping me I want to be able to do something and improve a lot.”

And for many, the thought of joining another group and leaving behind their teammates of many years isn’t very appealing.

“Those banners and those medals wouldn’t mean anything,” said Myles Moore, 11, “if it wasn’t for the team.”