The AGA Gymnastics Training Center is a sprawling complex of more than 10,000 square feet nestled between I-75 and U.S. 23, just south of Hill Road in Grand Blanc. On most days, especially in the late afternoon, the facility hums with activity. Aspiring athletes by the hundreds – of all abilities, from pre-school through high school – hone their crafts from gymnastics to tumbling to cheerleading. It is also home to the Creative Learning Academy – an award-winning childcare center that incorporates gymnastics and other physical activities.
AGA attracts participants from several counties, who willingly bypass closer venues to train under the watchful eyes of owner Stacie Dean, director Julie Fair, and their staff. It’s a place where trophies almost too numerous to count rest on ledges above the mats, balance beams, bars and rings.
The center has produced five national champions, including 2015 National Level 9 titleist, Grace King, and several NCAA Division 1 college gymnasts. “We always have several great things going on for kids of all ages and talent levels, because we believe in every child’s potential to accomplish great things,” Dean says. “We live by the mantra – dream it, believe it, achieve it. Our philosophy is to never give up on anyone who decides to join one of our programs. We also emphasize the importance of sportsmanship and conducting ourselves the right way. My director, Julie, has been especially instrumental in developing our elite athletes and producing national champions and college gymnasts. Our state and regional champions are actually too numerous to mention.”
It’s hard to imagine now, but AGA began when Dean was a college student looking for a way to earn extra money. Dean, who attended Swartz Creek High School, competed in gymnastics from an early age before deciding to give back to the sport by teaching gymnastics at the private school her younger sister attended while Dean was taking classes at Mott Community College. “It’s always been a goal of mine to make a difference in the lives of children and that’s what I went to college to do,” Dean says. “Helping kids reach their potential in gymnastics was an extension of that.”
After a year at the private school, Dean had caught the coaching bug and she was not about to stop when summer came. So, at age 19, Dean started what eventually morphed into AGA Gymnastics Training Center by renting a single room and working with about 20 kids in the summer of 1992. “I found I really liked coaching and thought it would be the perfect way to spend the summer and make a little extra money,” Dean recalls. “I became a business owner at 19 and the business kept growing. I bought my first balance beam, which I still have as a reminder of those early days. Soon, I needed two rooms and eventually more than that.”
As the business consumed more of Dean’s life, there were growing pains. Now, she loves to share stories from that time. “When I was younger, I always had parents of students come in and ask me if they could speak to the owner, and they were a little surprised when I told them they were, in fact, already speaking to her,” she says, chuckling. “Another time, the owner of a building where we rented space had a dispute with another party, and I was told we were being evicted. So, we moved everything out! Thankfully, it was only temporary. Overall, the growth took me by storm, but in a good way.”
The growth storm continued when Julie Fair joined the staff in 1999 and AGA moved into its current facility the next year. In 2006, the center’s first national champion was crowned.
“I had been living and coaching in Holland [Michigan] before moving back to my hometown [Grand Blanc],” Fair recalls. “One day, my dad saw an ad about AGA and suggested I call even though there was no mention of a job opening. So, I called on a whim and Stacie offered me an interview, which turned into a six-hour meeting. I’m very thankful I made the call because it’s been a very satisfying experience to be part of this great family atmosphere.”
Fair, too, has been awestruck by AGA’s growth. “To see it grow to the point where we have more than 1,000 kids in various programs at any one time has been amazing to witness,” she says. “The coaching staff has grown to about 15 and we could probably use more. At first, it was mostly Genesee County kids, but now they are coming from Lapeer, Oakland and Livingston Counties, as well. I think the way we handle coaching, bring out the best in our gymnasts, keep them interested in training nearly 30 hours a week, and also make it fun are the main reasons for that.”
Among those who joined AGA from Oakland County are Clarkston sisters Anna and Nina Martucci, who both developed into Division 1 college gymnasts. Anna is beginning her first season at Northern Illinois while Nina will continue her career at Ball State. “I started at AGA about five years ago when my sister did,” says Nina, who placed 20th of 495 gymnasts in the 2015 Level 7-10 State meet. “We decided to check it out after hearing about how great the coaches are, and they have been amazing, very supportive. They are the main reason I am moving on to the college level. I’ve had so many great experiences here, like winning the Level 9 Team National Championship. That was so much fun for us!”
AGA also boasts about Brittini Chappell of Grand Blanc, a Level 10 gymnast since 2011, who is beginning her freshman season at Michigan State, and was 14th at the Level 7-10 state meet. She is one of only three Big Ten Conference gymnasts from Genesee County high schools, joining Michigan State teammate, Haley Sedgewick (Powers) and Minnesota’s Bailey Gardner (Mt. Morris).
AGA will have another Big Ten gymnast in the fall of 2017, when Swartz Creek’s Kelyse Kurtiak joins the powerhouse Nebraska program, which has produced 26 first-team All-Americans in the past decade alone. Kurtiak captured a Level 9 National Championship at age 11 in 2011, the same year she reached Level 10. She has been with AGA since 2007.
“Really, Anna and Brittini have yet to reach their potential and should do very well in college,” Fair says. “I know their goals are to be their conference freshmen of the year. Nina is our team captain and is great in that role. She has also been a great example by coming back from injuring her Achilles tendon earlier this year. Kelyse’s talent was obvious from a young age and she has had colleges looking at her since she was 11. She will certainly help Nebraska continue its strong tradition of success.” Judging by the enthusiasm in her voice, Dean seems most pleased with AGA’s tradition of preparing its gymnasts to achieve success in life and to conduct themselves in a professional manner. Davison native Kayla Carto is just one example. After 12 years with AGA and an accomplished career at George Washington University during which she was a first-team, all-conference balance beam performer, Carto is a sales associate with the prestigious Washington Speakers Bureau. The organization arranges speaking engagements for more than 500 high-profile clients, including former President George W. Bush and television host, Katie Couric.
“I am extremely proud of the feedback we’ve gotten from judges, other coaches and even parents from other programs, saying how much they appreciated our sportsmanship,” Dean says. “It’s not just an occasional thing, but all the time, judges send us letters after competitions. That’s part of what we do to help our gymnasts do well in life, as well. To see them achieve that kind of success is very gratifying.”
Photography by Mike Naddeo