Athletics, academics combine to develop students

Congressional staffers get local seafood tour
August 15, 2012
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Congressional staffers get local seafood tour
August 15, 2012
Dream Home to be raffled Saturday
August 16, 2012

The summer Olympics always brings a rush of interest in gymnastics and other sports, according to Mary Aucoin.

A retired physical education instructor, Aucoin was among the original 1961 faculty at South Terrebonne High School, where she started the gymnastics program and eventually organized the first high school gymnastics tournament in Louisiana.

During her career, Aucoin also worked on world-class events that featured all-star athletes, including gymnast Nadia Comaneci; trained eventual college standouts such as Rachel Laurent of LSU; and founded Houma’s Gymnastics Development Center.

“See that young girl up there with the basketball?” Aucoin asks, pointing at a framed black and white photo on her office wall. “All-State player 1957. I’m far from that now.”

Aucoin said she originally wanted to be a basketball coach, but “sometimes God has different plans.”

Those plans led her to developing a business that combines basic gymnastics with a pre-school education. “A lot of pre-schools just had children play. We wanted to teach them something,” Aucoin explained. “We generally have kids ages 2 to 5, but we have had some as young as 12 months or when they first start walking.”

GDC differs from other training centers, according to its owner, in that it combines physical fitness with basic academic discipline. “We prepare kids for both the schools and the other gyms where they can advance their skills,” Aucoin said.

The GDC facility is built around a course of pads and obstacles appropriate for the youngest of athletes. While in play, children are taught safety, how to challenge themselves and physical fitness. Older children receive training on beams, uneven bars and other standard gymnastic equipment built to their size.

The center includes classrooms in the young learner program where student are offered art workshops, music classes, a reading center, role-play opportunities and an age-appropriate science center.

“I’ve learned this is an awesome way to build the physical, the mental and the emotional health of a child, and offer a sprinkling of social development,” Aucoin said. “I try to get parents to understand that if they step back and allow their babies space to grow they can develop independent thinking, better learning habits and effective communication skills.”

This life-long educator said that by incorporating athletics and academic preparation at a young age, children develop greater self-confidence and a willingness to challenge themselves with higher goals.

GDC is also equipped to help children with physical and developmental challenges. “The basis of all this is movement,” Aucoin said. “We keep them active and work with the children on respect, responsibility, communication skills and socialization. Of course the most important part of their day, for them, is going into the gym.”

Rates for the GDC basic gymnastics program averages $45 a month. Families making use of the complete state-registered private school are charged by the year and prices vary.

“Gymnastics is still the absolute core in what we do, because it helps children develop in other areas,” Aucoin said.

During evening hours, GDC offers recreational gymnastics for older children preparing to enter serious competition. “If they look like they have talent and interest we advise them to go to one of the competitive gyms in this area,” she said.

Kim Spence is a former South Terrebonne High School student who was coached by Aucoin, and has been working as a gym instructor with her mentor and friend for more than 30 years.

“Seeing some of the kids that have a difficult beginning able to turn around and make accomplishments is the most rewarding part for me,” Spence said.

“When you see the product of the program that’s the motivation,” Aucoin added. “We get such positive feedback.”

GDC is preparing to enter a new session for pre-school and gymnastics students. Aucoin and Spence are waiting to see how many children and parents will be inspired by the 2012 Olympics to make this their first approach toward this level of education.

Aucoin might not shoot hoops like she did 55 years ago, but by training young minds and bodies to achieve in the classroom, sports and life she contends she still has game.

Gymnastics Development Center instructor Kim Spence (left) demonstrates instruction she has received from her former coach and now business owner Mary Aucoin (right). GDC combines physical education with academic training to prepare pre-school children for formal education.