By Gerhard Schneibel

Sandy Springs area children now will have the space to work off their high levels of energy through gymnastics and other recreational activities since the ciy spent nearly $100,000 upgrading the Hammond Park gym and its equipment.

With luck, some of those children could go on to compete nationally or internationally under the instruction of coaches such as Marina Davidovich and Daniela Silivas.

The city’s manager of recreation and athletics, Davidovich has spent 22 years coaching gymnasts ranging from beginners to Olympians in the United States and her native Ukraine.

Fall classes at Hammond Park start Sept. 8, and Davidovich said a few spaces are available. The move from a small, auxiliary gym to one the size of a basketball court has helped her department expand its programming. Now coaches can hold more than one class simultaneously and offer programs for adults such as Pilates and yoga.

Other activities include karate, tap dancing, Capoeira, belly dancing, cheerleading, tennis and drama.

The city is holding an open house Sept. 6 to celebrate the facility, introduce the programs and instructors, and sign up people.

The instructors are all excellent and experienced, Davidovich said. “I’m just really pleased to have such a great, high-quality staff on hand.”

Silivas, a native of Romania, won three gold medals in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. She also won gold medals in world and European championships from 1984 to 1989.

Her experiences help her empathize with the girls she coaches because she understands the pressure of competition and the physical strain of gymnastics.

“I guess I know what the girls are going through,” she said. “If they’re hurt, if they have a bad day and they need to go through that day … it’s easier for me to talk to them because I’ve been through that myself.”

Gymnastics at Hammond Park, however, isn’t only for those with a competitive nature, Silivas said. “The best thing about this place is that everybody can come here and enjoy gymnastics. It doesn’t matter the age, the level of gymnastics. We do not put pressure on the little girls to compete. They can come here and just enjoy training. If they want to compete, fine. If they don’t, then it doesn’t matter.”

Todd Dawson, whose wife, Courtney, coaches in the program, has three children enrolled in classes. “Our kids are gym rats. They definitely love coming here,” he said.

When he participates in class with his 2-year-old son, Cadyn, he helps the boy in jumping and walking on the beam.

“With the confidence he has now, he can run around and do things,” Dawson said. “At the same time, we get to goof off and just have father-son time, and that’s the best thing in the world.”

Anya Smith, 9, said she has friends in many of her classes. “I know a lot of them really well from being here so often. I like how we get to flip and do things. I like to be where I can compete and show my skills and what I’ve learned.”

Davidovich said the gym is open every Saturday for a 1½-hour session of supervised gym at which kids can practice the skills they learned in classes.

The city conducted a survey that showed residents want a local place for their children to exercise in a protected environment.

“I’m sure that has great, positive effects on Sandy Springs residents,” Davidovich said. “It’s great for moms because they can drop the kids off and go do their shopping or whatever they need to do, and the kids can practice in a safe environment.”