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Franchised Gymnastics Boosts Sport

September 20, 1987

NEW YORK — Bev Hayasaki says she holds the key to producing world-class gymnasts for the United States the way fast-food restaurants churn out hamburgers.

Hayasaki, a former gymnast with a degree in child psychology, and her husband Yoshi Hayasaki, a 22-time national champion and coach of the University of Illinois gymnastics team, operate Sportastiks--the nation's only children's gymnastics franchise. Now in their eighth year, they have 38 pilot operations and 10 franchise locations in 23 states.

The Hayasakis say a national system of training is the "only way the USA will manage to dominate the Soviets (and others) as a team."

"I will have between 75 and 105 franchises operating by 1992. That translates into a student base of about 75,000 students," Bev Hayasaki said. "I'd like to see two or three different franchise groups in gymnastics--the McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King of the sport. I can't think of any better way to blow away the competition internationally."

Al Fong, who owns the Sportastiks Great American Gymnastic Express, a franchise in Blue Springs, Mo., coaches four gymnasts selected to the 1987-88 National team: Kim Masters, Christy Heinrich, Karen Tierney and Suanna Wells.

"Systems that are utilized on a national basis will eliminate many of the problems inherent in current practices," Fong said. "We need many clubs with the same ideals, the same concepts and the same systems to produce the kind of kids we need to compete with the Russians. Although I have run an independent gym for many years, I recognize the overall need for change."

Bela Karolyi, who has coached such champions as Nadia Comaneci of Romania and Mary Lou Retton, says the plan is not for him.

"Personally, I'm not a promoter of that idea," Karolyi said. "We were playing with the idea in the beginning, but I decided it was almost impossible for me to part my time and myself in too many different places. I wouldn't be able to give it my best shot. I wouldn't be able to satisfy the hundreds of people in a franchise situation.

Karolyi says franchised gymnastics are a good form of introducing young people to the sport, but can't respond to the needs of each individual.

"(The franchise theory) is a very successful idea in different industries," he said. "But in gymnastics, when working with human beings, they have to be related to properly. It's more than following a certain program, it's always adjusting your attitude to their attitude.

"In other areas, like the food industry, they are selling the technology and it's worked excellently. In gymnastics, you are dealing with human beings, who are not hamburgers, who are constantly demanding things and asking things.

"But any time you pull kids off the street, give kids physical exercise and gymnastic training is terrific and always welcome."

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