The initial responsibility for development gymnastics in the United States lies with parents who must make a large commitment of both time and money.
Finding top instruction is more difficult for boys, who are steered to high school and recreational programs because only four area clubs have competitive male items.
In the Washington area, a young girl must be enrolled in one of a dozen top private clubs, located mostly in distant reaches of suburbia, if she has any chance of reaching her potential.
If it weren't for the dedication of Bethesda's June Willim, the United States might never have realized one of its top Olympic hopefuls for 1980. Five years ago, when a YMCA instructor told her that daughter Stephanie, then only 8 had potential, Mrs. Willim examined the club situation carefully before placing her child in the MG Gymnastic Club.
"I don't know if I recognized it in Stephanie at first," said Mrs. Willim, who drives 25 minutes each way six days a week to the MG's gym on the Silver Spring-Ashton line.
"I had her enrolled in an afternoon tumbling program, and her instructor said she might have some talent. So I checked around. We were very fortunate to find the Welsses. You don't really know how much potential she has until she gets a good coach."
"From the minute she walked into our gym, we knew we had something special," said Greg Weiss, a 1964 Olypmpic, who coaches the MG's with his wife, Margie.
Of the area's 12 most competitive clubs, only one is inside the Beltway. Although cost sat the clubs vary, most area coaches acknowledge the price is high. Further increasing the expense are meet fees and travel costs for competition.
Costs vary on such factors as the amount of time a child spends in the gym, the size of the club, and the size of the family enrolled.
The MG is a small, private club that charges each of its team members $55 per month, which includes meet fees and travel. The MG gym, attached to the Weiss residence, is open to any of the 50 team members at any time.
There is a wide variance in the cost to team members of the area's biggest club, the MarVaTeens, which has gyms in Rockville and Wheaton and will soon open a third in Gaithersburg. The cost to a MarVaTeen team member can vary from $100 to $200 monthly, said Ruth Ann McBride, the organization's founder and executive director, depending on the amount of gym time and the number of competitions attended.
In addition to the competitive team, the MarVaTeens have approximately 1,100 boys and girls enrolled in various gymnastic classes.
The Karons of Fairfax charge $50 per month plus all travel and meet fees, according to Kay Borror, the team's founder and coach. The Karons also offer classes for about 400 girls.
It costs $100 to join the Royal T's os Crofton, plus $26.50 per month, and the cost may rise with the addition of classes for team members.
The Docksiders (formerly the Parkettes South) of Annapolis, charge $45 to $65 monthly plus travel and meet fees.
The Rebounders of Towson, the only gumnastics club in the Baltimore area, charges $35 monthly plus travel and meet fees.
Other top clubs included the Elites of Bailey's Crossroads, the Specs of McLean, the Exzuberants of Potomac, the PGGC of Greenbelt, the Felines of Alexandria and the B-CC "Y" of Bethesda.
Only the Royal T's, the Felines, and the B-CC "Y" have boys' teams, but a new club, the Gymnastics-Plus of Columbia, has a boys' team in addition to a fledgling girls' team.
The MarVaTeens dropped their competitive boys team three years ago. The Karons once offered classes to boys, but dropped them as unprofitable Borror said.
"There's just not that much call for boys because there are so many other sports for them," said Jean Weber, coach of the Rebounders and Maryland state chairwoman for the United States Gymnastic Federation. "The boys just don't stick with it long enough to become competitive. They just come and go.
"In boys, there is some really high-level activity around the country - in Illinois and California - but there's very little interest on the East Coast," McBridge said. "It's a vicious circle, there are no coaches (in the area) bethert are no (high-level) coaches. But there are no coaches (in the arta) because there is no interest. I don't know which came first."
In girls', clubs, the interest, is so high that many gymnasts make long trips to practice.
Janite Snowberger tried to find adequate coaching for her 11-year-old daughter, Wendi, near their home in Waynesboro, Pa., but finally decided to enroll her in the MarVaTeens. Now she makes the 90-minute drive to Montgomery County four times a week and Wendi, now an advanced gymnast, is preparing to graduate to the junior (14-and-under) elite program.
Rosie Marks of Alexandria makes a 32-mile round trip to the Karon gym twice a day four times a week, for her daughter Karen, 14, to practice. Mrs. Marks said she would have preferred for her daughter to take up dancing but bowed to Karen's enthusiasm for gymnastics.
Despite the rise of gymnastics clubs, there are still youngsters who have no outlet for their talents.
"There are probably a lot of girls running around with a lot of talent who don't even know what the sport is," McBride said. "There's nobody else in this country that's going to seek out that talent and develop it. It's got to be a private club."
Some of the area clubs offer scholarships to help team members whose parents encounter financial difficulties. The MarVaTeens allow parents to work in their gyms and chaperone trips to reduce their fees.
The area clubs indicate an unwillingness to offer free services to needy youngsters. "I couldn't afford to take it on," McBride said. "I have trouble making ends meet and I have more money than most of the clubs around."
She said she pays $40,000 yearly in rent for her Rockville gym, $15,000 in Wheaton and will pay $2,000 in Gaitherburg. That doesn't include utilities. She also said her instructors average $10,000 each in salary.