GYMhawks helps young tumblers take flight


Ky McCombe

GYMhawk Abigail Vander Mause climbs up the rope during a class session in the Williams Center Thursday evening, April 14, 2022.

Mason Thompson, Assistant Campus News Editor

A few weeks ago, Emily North and Sarah Knetzke were crowned National Champions at this year’s National Championship. The two have been doing gymnastics for a long time, and while the two have been crowned National Champions, the gymnastics coaching staff isn’t done for the year and have continued working with younger athletes. 

GYMhawks is a recreational gymnastics program put on by some of the coaches on the UW-Whitewater coaching staff. The children are put into the same gymnastics room as the collegiate athletes with the same coaches. 

“We have classes for kids as early as 18 months old and go all the way up to Seniors in high school,” GYMhawks founder Allison Annala said. “The coaches that run the classes and teach the kids are myself, members of the college team, as well as some high-school-aged kids that have gone through our program as well.”

Ava Virgo gets ready to hop onto the bars during a GYMhawks session Thursday evening April 14, 2022. (Ky McCombe)

GYMhawks features four different sections, which include an open gym, private lessons, a competitive section, and general classes. They are in their second session of the spring season, which goes until May 12 for the classes, and their fourth session for the competitive teams, which ends on May 14. 

“It’s not like other sports, where you move up with your age bracket,” Annala said of the competitive team. “It’s a skill-based sport, so once you master a certain skill, you can move up. So, we’ve had eight-year-olds and 18-year-olds that are training on the same thing based on their experience.” 

The competitive team will go to other competitions and clubs in the area to compete against one another, including clubs in Janesville and Milwaukee.

“We have one athlete right now who is going to be traveling to Minneapolis with me to compete against kids from five different states in a regional meet,” Annala said. “Once they get to higher levels, they can qualify for bigger competitions.” 

Sophie Lonsdale, an older gymnast, practices their balance on the beam Thursday evening April 14, 2022. (Ky McCombe)

The kids can also go to a private lesson or semi-private lesson to improve their craft. The semi-private lessons are usually between two and three students, while the private lesson is one student. The lessons are offered in half-hour and hour sessions. 

“Private lessons are more geared towards kids that are trying to get extra work on something specific,” Annala said. “They get to have some one-on-one time with coaches to work on that specific skill. With Covid, we had a lot of kids that were seeking private instruction as well. 

Annala started the program after she graduated from UW-Whitewater. She started assistant coaching for the gymnastics team on campus and then started GYMhawks in 2011. Annala takes a lot of pride in helping children learn and become more confident with their skills and has seen the program develop from its early stages. 

“There was a need for it,” Annala said. “I put in a proposal for our program to Chancellor Richard Telfer, and he said, ‘Go for it. Why don’t you guys just do it anyway?’ So, we did. It gives our athletes at the college level an opportunity to connect with community members while paying them to work, and they get to be a part of a sport that they fell in love with when they were little kids to have a connection with children. One of the coolest parts is that these little kids will come with their families to cheer on their coaches when they’re competing. It’s really neat to see it come full circle.” 

Halee Peters stretches her arms out wide on the beam to regain balance during a GYMhawks session in the Williams Center Thursday evening April 14, 2022. (Ky McCombe)

Annala said that there were typically about 200 kids annually and that there were years when there were 200 kids alone in a session. Unfortunately, the numbers have dropped due to Covid, but Annala has seen an improvement recently. 

“I took a picture the other night because I felt like it was the biggest group we’ve had in the last two and a half years,” she said. “23 kids were stretching on the floor at the time. It was cool to see so many people back in the gym because we had to be strict on numbers for so long.”

Annala is proud of the progress that GYMhawks has made in a little over a decade the club has been running. The program has grown since it was established in 2011, and students of all ages have come through and learned more and more through the club. 

“The thing that makes me the proudest is knowing that we’ve been running for over ten years, Annala said. “To have seen the program grow over the past decade and that there are still kids from the community that want to come and learn gymnastics is awesome. Being a college coach, I get kids for only four years. With GYMhawks, there are kids that I’ve had for ten years. I’ve gotten to watch them grow up, and we’ve celebrated them graduating. They’re with us for a long time sometimes, and we get to see them turn into young adults, and being a part of their lives for so long is amazing. 

Whether you’re four years old or 16-years old wanting to learn more about gymnastics, GYMhawks will have something to teach you along the way. The instructors are very familiar with the tasks at hand and will help you every step of the way. For more information, please visit

Isabella Perez Emory (left) and Halee Peters encourage each other between practices with a friendly handshake Thursday evening April 14, 2022. (Ky McCombe)