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Local News

Parents criticize Fox Valley YMCA after ouster of gymnastics director

A group of parents is upset about the sudden firing of the longtime director of the gymnastics program at the Fox Valley Family YMCA in Plano.

According to parents, gymnastics director Karen Oelker was let go on Monday, May 7, and was replaced by a new director who they say lacks the experience of Oelker, who was the director at the Y for 16 years. They say the new director and coach needs to be certified first and that could take a few weeks.

For the YMCA’s part, Stephanie Majewski, interim CEO of the Fox Valley Family YMCA, said in an email that she could not comment as it was a personnel issue.

“Unfortunately, as this is a personnel decision/issue, out of respect for staff involved, we are not at liberty to discuss the issue,” she wrote.

Parents T.J. and Jodi Banning of Sheridan, who own a business in Yorkville, said their 14-year-old daughter, Ashlyn, has been with the gymnastics program for five years, but that they are now no longer participating in the program and have canceled their YMCA membership.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Jodi said.

“Something smells funny,” T.J. added.

The Bannings said YMCA leadership told parents at a meeting held on May 8 that they interviewed eight individuals to replace Oelker.

The YMCA National Gymnastics Championships are scheduled for late June in Ohio, and the Bannings say that while Ashlyn has chosen not to compete, there are others who have already paid their fees and will need to get ready for the tournament with a coach and director who they say is not prepared.

Kaylie Cartwright, a gymnastics coach and coordinator, posted a letter addressed to gymnastics parents on social media Monday, May 14, regarding the controversy and signed by herself and Oelker as well as the other gymnastics staff.

Cartwright said that she “along with several other staff members, walked away from our positions in solidarity” after Oelker was fired.

“Even though leaving was our choice, we could not stand behind the Y’s decision to abruptly dismiss someone who had dedicated almost 16 years to the gymnastics program, (especially during the middle of a session),” Cartwright wrote. “Of course, if it was up to us we would still be in the gym/dance studio doing what we love, which is coaching many of your children. Being an employee of the Y for the last 14 years, I really only found respect and support working alongside Karen in the gymnastics department.”

She continued, “I was employed at the Y for 6 years before working in the gymnastics department. For those 6 years it was just a job, but once I started in gymnastics it started not to feel like a job anymore but more like I found a second home. Yes the job could still be stressful as we were many times overwhelmed but we supported each other and did our best for your kids as they were our number one priority. We tried making your children’s experience in these departments the best we could with the equipment and support we had to work with. Working in this department has been a labor of love. We had to fundraise for years just to get the equipment we had. We cleaned the gym and did all the maintenance ourselves, along with Al Hogan (former maintenance director) who was one of our biggest supporters.”

Cartwright wrote that those who resigned from the program are “all very sorry it had to end this way and we did not want your children to think we abandoned them. We truly miss them dearly and cannot stop thinking about our gym/dance kids.”

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