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posted: 3/10/2010 12:01 AM

Eola Center carves a popular niche with Family Open Gym

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  • Karin Myre, right, provides a demonstration of the bump for aspiring volleyball players Benjamin Schwieger, Daniel Schwieger, back, and Stephanie Schwieger during a recent family open gym at the Eola Community Center.

      Karin Myre, right, provides a demonstration of the bump for aspiring volleyball players Benjamin Schwieger, Daniel Schwieger, back, and Stephanie Schwieger during a recent family open gym at the Eola Community Center.
    Courtesy of Fox Valley Park District

 
 

Parents, picture this scenario - and try not to cringe:

The kids are out of school. The weather is cold and rainy and, looking outside at the brown grass and mud, it's hard to tell which is which. Meanwhile, the kids are playing Indy 500, racing around the house like it's their private drag strip.

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To prevent premature balding, resist the urge to pull out your hair - there's a better solution. A quick trip to the Eola Community Center will alleviate parental stress and tame that childhood energy.

The remedy is called Family Open Gym, and it's the brainchild of a parent - Aurora mom Cathy Schwieger - who often found herself in the predicament above.

"What can we do with the kids?" she often asked, only to find the question unanswered.

But Schwieger and her husband Sam had an idea, and took it one step further. Rather than just drop their three children off somewhere, why not make it an opportunity to spend some recreation time together as a family?

So they got on the phone, only to hit dead ends - until they spoke with Ivan Chambers at the Eola Center.

"We were looking for an indoor facility where we (mom and dad) could play with the kids together in an all-ages environment - not just an open gym to leave the kids," said Schwieger. "Ivan was very receptive, so we decided to give it a go."

Since its debut last winter, Family Open Gym has become a huge hit during holidays, weekends and other days when school is out.

"It became popular right away, just through word-of-mouth," said Schwieger. "One family tells another family and next thing you know, people from the neighborhood start showing up and everybody gets to know each other."

Family Open Gym is a fixture each Sunday from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Supervisor Kevin Jenkins also schedules other times based on availability and is planning to offer several time slots when students in local school districts go on spring break at the end of March.

The format is a freewheeling variety of basketball, volleyball, soccer, scooters, little bikes, kickball and dodgeball. But Schwieger's favorite sports are those that don't necessarily have a name.

"It's fun to watch the kids invent their own games and make up rules as they go," said Schwieger. "They can be very creative."

Since the age ranges from about 4 to 14, gym attendant (and kids' favorite) Louis Jones will often lower or raise the basketball rims to accommodate each group.

"The best part is that the whole family can participate and have use of this huge gym," said Schwieger. "So many programs are age-specific these days that it's nice to get a little together time with the family when everybody is having fun."

And burning off all that surplus energy, which translates into quieter times at home.

• Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District.

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