Kids flip over Phoenix Gymnastics Academy programs

By Dave Ficere

The gymnast sprints down the runway on her damaged ankle, leaping high into the air as her Russian opponents stop to watch. The competitor performs a back handspring onto the vault perfectly, then descends through the air toward the ground. Everyone on the sidelines and in the crowd winces, knowing that when she lands, it’s going to be as painful as someone smashing a medal rod against your ankle.

That’s how one television sports program summed up the heroic performance of Kerri Strug as the 4-foot-9 gymnast from Tucson led the U.S. gymnastics team to the Gold Medal in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Strug, like thousands of other youngsters of all ages, got her start at a gymnastics center, much like the Phoenix Gymnastics & Dance Academy (PGA) in Deer Valley. In fact, long-time owner Mike Payne says PGA staff instructors Jerry and Ellen Hinkle worked with Strug as she moved through the competitive ranks during their time as part owners of a Tucson gym.

Payne grew up in the sport, beginning with gymnastics classes in his childhood and high school, leading to a college scholarship. He began coaching others during his last year in college, eventually bringing those skills to Arizona and starting PGA. “I’ve been involved in gymnastics my whole life,” he says, “and my mother coached at the YMCA in the 60s.”

The Phoenix Gymnastic Academy, which calls itself “Arizona’s premier Gymnastics facility and home to aspiring athletes for over 30 years,” started in 1982 and is one of the oldest programs in Arizona that has remained under the same ownership. “We primarily offer gymnastics and dance for all age students from the beginner all the way up to national-level competition,” Payne says.

A lot has changed since he was in school Payne says. “No Arizona high schools offer gymnastics, but there are some schools in other states that offer it,” he says. “ “A lot of men’s gymnastics are gone, even at the college level. Now performers must go to schools like ours and private clubs have taken over the sport.” So far, PGA has sent 26 students into college programs, but the competitive program is just a part of what PGA offers.

So, how can youngsters benefit from gymnastics classes and even the competition aspect? “Gymnastics is different from other sports,” Payne asserts, “in that you have to develop a certain level of skills before you can even compete. But for those who aren’t interested in that, we have a recreational program that’s just for fun and helps develop basic skills, coordination and strength. The competitive route is more intense and more of a commitment.”

PGA offers a lot of different kinds of classes for all ages and children are grouped together by skill level. And because class size is limited, students get more individualized attention. For parents interested in finding out more, PGA offers a free trial class that their children can participate in to see if it’s something they might like and enjoy.

While they specialize in gymnastics, Payne says PGA also offers tumbling classes for those interested in enhancing their cheerleading skills and a small dance program that includes ballet, jazz and hip-hop. In addition, PGA hosts birthday parties on weekends and a summer camp featuring gymnastics, dance, martial arts, swimming and other fun activities.

PGA’s more than 12,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility is conveniently located at 1926 W. Monona Dr., just north of the 101 Freeway on the west side of 19th Avenue in Phoenix. You can find out more by visiting their website at or calling them at (623) 582-5293.