Tiger Academy youth gymnastics program to find new home

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 | 10:33 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — About 460 youth gymnasts from Columbia will need to find a new place to tumble soon. 

The Tiger Academy of Gymnastics, one of Columbia's largest youth gymnastics clubs, has practiced out of MU's Tiger Performance Complex since the facility opened in October of 2011. But come Aug. 31, it will no longer be able to use the home of the Missouri gymnastics team.

MU statement

MU Associate Athletics Director Chad Moller posted this statement to the Save Tiger Academy of Gymnastics Facebook page:

Tiger Academy of Gymnastics Families:

As you are likely aware, the University of Missouri Department of Intercollegiate Athletics will no longer continue to lease space at the Tiger Performance Center (TPC) to the Tiger Academy of Gymnastics (TAG) LLC. Understanding that TAG has used the Mizzou facilities for many years, this decision wasn’t reached lightly, but instead with the knowledge that it will present a change for participating families.

This decision was communicated with TAG owner Rob Drass, back on Feb. 28th, with the transition date set for early summer. It has become apparent that the TAG ownership did not communicate this change to you, their membership, until recently. That’s certainly very unfortunate, so please accept our apologies for this lack of advance notice. 

Since this word is just now coming out, we have received some very thoughtful and passionate feedback. We have heard the concerns and want to communicate that we are sensitive to those, and have agreed to extend the agreement through August, to allow for more time for TAG to make the proper adjustments.

Please understand that the University of Missouri is not attempting to close TAG down, and any assertion as such is not accurate. We are simply asking the organization and its leadership to find a different location to run its private operation. The TAG staff has done an outstanding job of growing its programs over the years, but the resulting fact is our TPC facility was not built to house the approximately 450 TAG gymnasts who use it six days a week for 48 weeks during the year.

The TPC facility was built for the primary purpose of providing a state-of-the-art training facility for our Gymnastics and Golden Girls programs. We have, however, communicated with Amie Butler that we felt our facility could continue to accommodate a few smaller-sized aspects of the larger TAG operation, being the adaptive gymnastics, Tiger Tots and football game day gymnastics programs. That is an option we left for Amie to consider.

We have visited with several well-established local gyms to encourage them to reach out to the TAG leadership, and we believe that they can offer suitable alternatives at affordable prices. We are confident that the leadership of TAG can work to find a solution to continue to provide their private services to area families for years to come.

If you have questions, please feel free to contact either Doug Gillin or Tim Hickman in the Directors’ Office. 

Sincerely, Doug Gillin, Tim Hickman, Deputy Athletics Director, Executive Associate Athletics Director

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"It's a facility issue," said Chad Moller, who is in charge of communications for MU's athletics department, about the decision not to renew Tiger Academy's lease. "The Tiger Performance Complex was not built to handle the size of a group like Tiger Academy has grown to."

Before the Tiger Performance Complex was built, Tiger Academy, which was started in 1980 by former MU gymnastics coach Jake Jacobson and is now owned by his successor, former Missouri gymnastics coach Rob Drass, had practiced in the Hearnes Center.

The club paid rent to the MU athletics department to use MU's facilities and benefited from its association with the university's gymnastics program, with Tiger Academy gymnasts often performing before home gymnastics meets.

Drass, who resigned as Missouri coach on April 9, was contacted about Tiger Academy's future at the Tiger Performance Complex on Feb. 28, according to MU gymnastics spokeswomen Jennifer Dewar.

In addition to a lack of space for parents to watch their children, Tiger Academy has had to deal with sharing the Tiger Performance Complex with other university teams and last-minute practice cancellations to free up parking for MU athletic events. The MU Golden Girls also use the Tiger Performance Complex. 

"Gymnastics didn't have a hold in youth sports when we started our program in 1979," Moller said. "Tiger Academy directors have done a great job of growing the program."

"In February, there were talks about restructuring the program," Tiger Academy director Amie Butler said. "To say that we knew that there was an exit date for Tiger Academy . . .  I never had the feeling that we were just going to be done. My attitude was 'we can make this work' because we always have been able to. Since it's so important to the community, I thought that there was no way it would be taken away."

Butler met with MU athletics officials last week to try to work out an agreement to keep the program at the Tiger Performance Center, and parents involved with Tiger Academy expressed their desire for the program to stay at the Tiger Performance Complex on the "SAVE Tiger Academy of Gymnastics" Facebook page.

When it became evident that their agreement with MU was nearing an end, organizers met on Monday to brainstorm ideas for a new Tiger Academy location. Drass, who according to a press release will transfer ownership of the club to Butler on June 1, was in attendance for the meeting. 

"It was very productive," Butler said after the meeting. "The number one goal would be to have our own facility to continue doing the great things we do. There would be no time constraints or rules with the university. A lot of people gave some wonderful fundraising ideas."

Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.

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