The owners of Joel Baba’s School of Gymnastics in Middletown are seeing increased competition from other area gymnastics programs, but Ed and Silda Gardner say the key to their school is the non-competitive atmosphere.
“The goals are confidence, skills and gaining more faith in themselves,” said Ed Gardner. “That’s far more important than whether you’re better in the gym than someone else.”
Ed Gardner has been involved in gymnastics for more than 40 years. He competed at Pennsbury High School under coach Russ Neiger, who trained at Temple University by the gym’s namesake, Joel Baba, an alternate on the 1952 U.S. Olympics team.
“I had worked in a machine shop for 20-some years and I was looking for something part time, and I went to Joel and asked him to hire me as coach in the evening,” Ed Gardner said. “He asked me how I would like to buy a gym. I never thought I would own a gymnastics center. I thought I’d build motorcycles my whole life. But I always loved being around kids. There’s no better feeling than seeing a kid smiling from ear to ear.”
If fun is the Gardners’ favorite word, safety is a close second. The importance of safety came from Baba himself, Ed Gardner said. During one meet, when Ed Gardner was competing against Baba’s students at Neshaminy, Baba watched him on the high bar.
“He had heard I knew a new skill,” Gardner said. “He wanted to make sure I was safe so he made himself an extra spotter for me. We’re competing against him and he wanted to make sure I was safe.”
The Gardners’ respect for Baba, who died in 2008, is reflected by the fact that they have no intention of changing the name of the business.
“A lot of people knew Joel and … I had great respect for the man,” Ed Gardner said. “The building is called Gardner’s Gym, but the program is Joel’s.”