• Summer 1976, St. Louis County Gymnastics Club opened in St. John’s Church gymnasium. Rod Rogers’ initial investment bought a vault, two sets of bars, two beams and a floor exercise mat that could be folded up if necessary. The coaches and gymnasts had to set the equipment up and take it down daily. Classes ran in the afternoon for four hours, while Rod continued to teach physical education at Bernard Elementary School.
•Fall 1976, Rod moved the gym moved to 872 Horan in the Fenton industrial area across from the Chrysler/Daimler plant and very close to what is now Riverchase Recreational Complex. This gym was 6,000 square feet, lacked air-conditioning and had very low ceilings. When the gymnasts started learning giants on bars, Rod had to cut out of the ceiling one of the support beams so the kids wouldn’t hit their feet on the ceiling! He taught his first giants in this building on one of his two sets of Nissen bars (almost all of the equipment was made by Nissen back then). The set of Nissen bars that the instructional gymnasts use today is one of the two original sets.
• 1979, St. Louis County Gymnastics Club became St. Louis Spirits Gymnastics Club and adopted the logo still in use today. Also in 1979, Rod moved the gym moved onto Larkin Williams Road in Fenton, just a couple of blocks from the Horan location. Although this location did not have air conditioning, it was a much larger facility at 9,000 square feet. Despite having more room, the gymnasts still had to practice under less than ideal conditions-they had to vault by running diag
onally across the floor exercise mat. And the gym did not have a foam block floor, which was becoming a standard for the industry, so Rod made his own tumbling strip. The bounce came from the flex of 2X4 pieces of wood. It was about this time that the Class II team won its first state championship team trophy. Rod also developed a couple of individual Class II Regional Champions.
• 1980’s Spirits moved to Truman Junior High. The club hosted numerous competitions, camps and clinics in this awesome facility. Two of Rod’s most memorable clinicians were Bela Karoyli and Kelly Garrison. It was in this facility that Rod was able to purchase a 40-foot by 40-foot foam block floor. He still recalls how tedious it was to glue all of the foam blocks to the plywood panels. For this gym, Rod also purchased two new high beams, which are 2 of the high beams still used at the gym today. He purchased these from a Regional Competition he attended in Omaha, Nebraska, and he drove back to St. Louis with the beams in the back of his pick-up truck.
• 1980’s Rod developed his elite athletes. Kris Merlo and Gretchen Schmidt made it to the Elite National Level. They attended Elite Nationals in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Tucson. They were competing against future Olympians Kathy Johnson and Mary Lou Retton. Rod trained his elite gymnasts trained more than 30 hours a week. Alison Barber, who had won vault at Class I Nationals, was training elite with Krista Kapps and Heidi Markle.
• 1985, Spirits hosted the AAU National Championships at Washington University just after the university’s field house had been completed. Alison won the All-around competition at that meet. Rod became the Elite Development Direct or for Region IV and hosted an Elite Zone meet at University of Missouri-St. Louis. Overall, Rod had two Elite National gymnasts and three Elite Regional gymnasts.
• 1992, Truman Junior High School was reopened as an elementary school, so Spirits was on the move to a new home again. The gym relocated to the Biltmore Industrial Complex, another Fenton location, off of Highway 30 near Chuck’s Boots in Jefferson County. (This location still lacked air-conditioning.)
• In 1996, Rod committed to a new gym location, its current home on Maurer Industrial Drive in Sunset Hills. Rod rented the space before the building was constructed, and he was able to have a say in the gym’s design. Spirits’ current 10,000-square-foot facility has state-of-the-art equipment and includes two vaults, one of which lands in an in-ground loose foam pit; wide-spread bars and a single bar over the loose foam pit; high and low beams; an Elite-size spring floor and spring tumbling strip that allows the gymnast to land in the pit; and two in-ground trampolines and a power track. Best of all, the gym is air-conditioned!