Cheri Marsh of rural Hillsboro appreciates the energy children possess, and she provides a useful outlet for that energy through gymnastics classes offered at her home and at the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren church.
“I just love being with the kids,” Marsh said. “I think gymnastics is so good for them. It helps with coordination and gives them a way to boost their confidence.”
Marsh began teaching gymnastics when her oldest daughter was interested in the sport and the family lived in Lexington, Neb.
“Her teacher became a very good friend of mine and I enjoyed helping with her classes,” Marsh said. “When she moved, she asked if I would like to take over her classes and I did.”
Marsh has taught what she calls “recreational gymnastics” for over 27 years now.
“Not only is it good for kids, it helps me stay limber and strong,” she said.
Marsh and her husband, Dave, moved to Hillsboro in 2002. In 2004, they built a home southwest of Hillsboro where she has a basement studio.
For gymnastic lessons, Marsh likes to involve the parents of her students, teaching them the proper way to “spot” or support so they can safely practice at home.
“I like to have parent participation, not just visitation,” she said.
Marsh follows a basic plan of stretching and strength conditioning for all her classes, starting with the youngest children around age 4.
“We start with stretching and strengthening exercises and use a chart to work up to them being able to do 12 push-ups from their knees and 24 reverse crunches,” she said.
After several lessons, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students learn to do a hard bridge with head up, which emphasizes arm strength.
Marsh said children in grades one through three, or those ready for the next level, learn to kick over from the bridge position. They also work on round-offs, cartwheels, and other gymnastic moves.
Older children learn different names of floor passes and stunts and work to put those together in floor exercise movements.
Marsh also teaches jumps on a mini-trampoline, including flip dismounts, and balance beam sequences.
“My lessons are heavily weighted on floor exercises,” she said. “Those really help the children learn to control their movements and build their strength as they combine the different movements.”
Marsh said most of her students stick with the program until around seventh grade, when most school programs allow sports participation.
“Gymnastics are such a good base for any sport,” she said. “I have both girls and boys in my classes and really like to see the boys in there, because they learn how to control their bodies and tuck their heads, which is really important for safety in football.”
Marsh offers four classes for preschool and kindergarten children, held at the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church as part of the Kids Connection day care.
She also gives classes at her home southwest of Hillsboro for school age children with three sessions in progress.
Marsh said she has taught dance and tumbling team concepts before, but likes to stay away from the competitive aspect of the sport.
“Competitive gymnastics takes too much time commitment,” she said. “I like the more recreational aspect of it. I like to see families exercising together, not spending all their Saturdays in gyms around the country in competitions through the year.”