For most of the past three decades, the Gemini Gymnastics facility in Greenwood provided the only real outlet for aspiring young gymnasts in the immediate Blair County area.
For both aspiring and accomplished boys and girls gymnasts from the toddler level up through high school, the Gemini Gymnastics School, which opened in the 1970s, was the only game in town.
Now that game is over, but that fact didn't make the ride any less fulfilling for longtime Gemini owner and director Wes McCloskey, who closed the doors to the facility for the final time at the end of June.
"I got to meet and coach second- and third-generations of kids, which was pretty neat,'' McCloskey said.
McCloskey - whose parents, Helen and the late Neil McCloskey, bought the Gemini facility in 1981 and eventually passed it down to him - tried to develop the whole person in the young people he instructed, not merely just the gymnast.
"The enjoyment of dealing with young kids, and helping them find potentials that they never thought they had,'' was how McCloskey, 60, described the most satisfying attributes of his role as a gymnastics instructor. "I tried to help them develop discipline, dedication, a sense of sacrifice and a willingness to pursue goals. I always tried to teach each of them to be a good person.''
According to current Altoona Area High School gymnastics coach Janelle Yerty, that was an effort in which McCloskey markedly succeeded.
"He was a mentor to a lot of people,'' said Yerty, who competed at Gemini for 11 years, from 1995 through 2006, and also served as a coach there for the last three years. "Wes has had the ability to teach all levels of gymnastics, girls as well as boys, and he likes to teach physical fitness, not just gymnastics.''
Many current and former area gymnasts benefited from McCloskey's tutelage.
"It's next to impossible to take up gymnastics in the ninth grade and excel at it,'' Yerty said. "The Gemini Gymnastics facility provided the base for high school gymnasts for years. Most gymnasts participated there or at the Hollidaysburg YMCA before joining the high school team.''
McCloskey's emphasis on physical fitness extends to his other profession; he's a physical education instructor at the Hollidaysburg Area Junior High School. His conditioning regimens benefited many athletes who went through the Gemini Gymnastics program, and not just gymnasts.
"A lot of football players, swimmers and pole vaulters took gymnastics,'' Yerty said. "It really provides a base for athletes, no matter what sport they're going into.''
Nadine (DeLeo) Buchanan, a member of the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame who earned a Division I gymnastics scholarship to Penn State, now lives in Pittsburgh. She remembers her formative days as a gymnast at Gemini Gymnastics quite fondly.
During the 1970s, the Gemini facility was under the direction of Suzanne Yoculan, who went on to become the head gymnastics coach at the University of Georgia.
"As a young girl, I was transported from Altoona back and forth to State College, and Suzanne was my first coach in State College,'' Buchanan said. "Suzanne started the Gemini Gymnastics program in Altoona, and we went to state, regional and national meets with her. Gemini Gymnastics gave people an opportunity to travel to Altoona from towns like Port Matilda and Tyrone and participate in gymnastics. It was a great experience.''
A lot has changed in the sport of gymnastics over the past three and a half decades. Once primarily a men's and boys sport, the face of gymnastics has shifted genders and is now predominantly a girls and women's sport.
McCloskey himself was an outstanding gymnast on the former Altoona High School boys gymnastics team in the early 1970s, and he went on to college stardom at Frostburg State College in Maryland, setting school records in every event, and the all-around, during his days there.
Of the hundreds of boys and girls who McCloskey coached to state, regional and national acclaim from the Gemini Gymnastics facility, one in particular stands out - Scott Rosenthal, who became a two-time NCAA medalist at Penn State.
"That kid was the total package,'' McCloskey said of Rosenthal, a recent Penn State graduate who is now enrolled in medical school. "He drove here from Clearfield, worked out here four days a week and graduated as a valedictorian. He had so much drive. It was incredible.''
Gemini Gymnastics was the only gymnastics school in the immediate Altoona area until the LTD (Living The Dream) Academy opened eight years ago. Shortly after that, the Uzelac Gymnastics facility came to Altoona from Johnstown.
"I was the only gym around, I had the whole pie, and then it was split in half, and then in thirds,'' McCloskey said. "But even with the other facilities opening here, our membership remained pretty steady.''
LTD Academy owner, Dawn Litzinger, is a former member of the Gemini Gymnastics facility who had high words of praise for McCloskey.
"He was an amazing coach who did so much for boys competitive gymnasts in this area,'' Litzinger said. "I feel sad that Gemini is closing after all these years, but I think that Wes is ready to move on.''
"I'm disappointed,'' he admitted. "I knew that my career in gymnastics would eventually come to an end - it just happened a little bit earlier than I had anticipated. There were multiple factors that influenced my decision (to close). It wasn't one thing in particular.
"I just thought that now was the time,'' he said. "But it's been fun.''