Sport grows by leaps and bounds

When Jan Urfer started coaching gymnasts nearly 30 years ago, she had no idea the program would develop into the successful club it is today.

Klahhane Gymnastics began in 1983 with a few recreational gymnastics classes through the Clallam County Family YMCA. Today, more than 200 gymnasts take part

in recreational and competitive programs through the club year-round.

Sequim High School freshman Emily Giammalva, 15, has participated in Klahhane Gymnastics for more than 10 years. She joined the competitive team at about age 9 and has done well since then. She practices three hours a day four days a week and also attends clinics in the summer.

This year she became the Level 7 state champion in vault and she hopes to progress to Level 8 next year.

Glen Giammalva said the program has been a great experience for his daughter and his family.

"We've seen the club progress and the girls improve over the years," he said. "We're really lucky to have such a successful program in our community."

Home of its own

The club moved from the Port Angeles High School gym to its own facility on the east side of Port Angeles last fall, shortening the drive for gymnasts from Sequim.

"It's always been worth the drive, but it's closer now and well worth it," Giammalva said.

The club operates in the former Mayflower Moving building across from Walmart. The building didn't require much retrofitting except for building a low wall around the gymnastics area, filling in the railing in the upstairs viewing area and getting the office space ready.

Urfer, the director of Klahhane Gymnastics, said finding the perfect facility was important.

"We needed a building with adequate ceiling height, without a lot of posts," she said. "There just really aren't many buildings of that nature in the area."

Beams and bars

The new building accommodates seven balance beams, a spring floor, two sets of uneven bars, three single bars, a men's high bar, a vault, a 40-foot tumble-track trampoline, two climbing ropes and a 10- by 14-foot standard trampoline.

Instructors also use mats and training aids such as toys and shapes for preschoolers and birthday parties.

When the club moved to the new building, it brought along 50 registered children.

"That was really all we could handle at the time due to the time and space constraints at the high school," Urfer said.

After about five months in the building, the number of participants jumped to nearly 200.

Expose the sport

Sequim residents Courtney Canaday, 15, and her sister Cassidy, 11, started last fall when the club opened in its new location. Their mother Kris Canaday said it is the best she's seen since moving here from California.

"The facility and the

equipment are exceptional," she said. "The coaches have gymnastics backgrounds, which is very important to us."

Urfer said one of the main goals of the program is to provide exposure to the sport.

"We just really want to promote gymnastics on the peninsula because it's such a foundation sport for so many other sports," Urfer said.

"It's a sport that combines so many different aspects of athleticism."

Gymnastics improves strength, flexibility and quickness, and develops special awareness and motor skill coordination, she said. It also helps prepare gymnasts for further competition.

"It's very difficult for kids to compete at the high school level if they haven't had some prior training. You can start at any time but to get to a competitive level, the older you are when you start, the harder it is."

Classes and camps

Her hopes for the program hinge on what the gymnasts want to achieve.

"We want to take it to whatever level we can in the community," she said.

The facility is available for birthday parties and field trips and the staff offers recreational classes and competitive team programs as well as summer camps.

Preschool parent and child classes are available for children 18 months-3 years old. Preschool classes are for children who are 31/2-6 years old. Recreational programs are for children 6 years and older.

The team competitors range in age from 9-15 years old and work out year-round. They practice an average of three days a week for a total of six to 12 hours, plus competitions. The competitive season runs from December through May.

Registration is open for summer camps and classes. The club is at 3318 Acorn Lane in Port Angeles and can be reached at 457-5187.

No teams for her

When Urfer was in high school, there were no sports teams for girls. She developed an interest in women's sports in college and became a coach with the Port Angeles schools in 1979.

She's been at it ever since. In 1990, she assumed the head coaching position at the high school, where she continued through 2005.

One of her goals at Klahhane Gymnastics is to provide quality instruction while promoting self-esteem and confidence for each student through participation in and enjoyment of gymnastics. Klahhane is committed to providing an environment that not only is fun, safe and professional but also captures the joy of childhood and the satisfaction of learning and achievement.

Urfer was president of the Washington Girls Gymnastics Coaches Association from 1990-1994 and was inducted into the group's Hall of Fame in 2001. She also is a gymnastics judge and qualified to judge any level through Junior Olympic Level 10.

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