The Charleston Gazette
INNERVIEWS: 'I enjoy the small things'
Monday, January 28, 2002
By: Sandy Wells
Maybe his occupation was preordained when his mother named him. Would you trust a banker, doctor or lawyer named Billy Bob? A gymnastics coach? Now that's more like it.
For more than 25 years, Billy Bob Taylor has reigned as Charleston's gymnastics guru, a calling perfectly suited to his boyish, kid-friendly moniker.
A gymnast and tumbler since childhood, he directs Maverick Gymnastics, the area's best-known school for budding Mary Lou Rettons. He named the gym in honor of the boys club in Amarillo, Texas, that shaped his life.
Last summer, he assumed a second identity as manager of the Tennis Indoor Center in Kanawha City. A 47-year-old named Billy Bob fits there, too.
"MY NAME really is Billy Bob. That's on my birth certificate. When I first moved back east, my name was difficult. When my mother-in-law printed our wedding invitations, she wouldn't print my full name, just Billy Taylor.
"Billy Bob comes across to some people as a country bumpkin. But for what I do for a living, my name is the best thing that could ever happen to me. Kids identify Billy Bob with the gym and a good time.
"I grew up predominately at a boys club much like our Salvation Army Boys Club here. It was for kids from broken homes who needed some guidance. My mother was trying to raise five children by herself and needed somewhere for my energy to be directed.
"We named Maverick Gymnastics after the boys club. It was the Maverick Boys Club. In the cattle industry, mavericks are cows that don't have mothers, and they take them and retrain them. At the boys club, they would take us under their wings. Basically, they would beat you into being a good person.
"I hated it the first week because they had some strict rules and guidelines. If they said not to do something and you did it, they busted you with a board. I learned in a hurry how to follow directions and rules.
"I saw my dad just once. I think that's one of the things that has developed a little character in me. I try to look at it as a positive instead of a negative. In some ways, it has allowed me to be better at what I do. Dealing with children, I have a little more empathy for their circumstances. At the same time, I get a little frustrated with people who look for excuses as to why they aren't successful.
"The boys club competed well nationally in all sports. I learned football, baseball, basketball and tumbling. They had a candy scramble. If you tumbled on Monday, Wednesday or Friday afternoon, they would throw candy out on the gym floor, and you could run and get as much candy as you could. Having five kids in our family, there wasn't much money to go around, so this was an opportunity for me to get candy. But I had to tumble to get the candy.
"I developed an interest in tumbling and got a gymnastics scholarship to a small junior college in Amarillo. Their system was to let you practice teaching. As a physical education major, I was teaching the classes for the teachers, and that didn't set well with me. So I went to work for the boys club there in Amarillo as a director.
"I ended up joining the circus. The Rev. David Harris of Dover, Pa., called one night and asked if I'd like to join a small circus backed by the United Methodist Churches. We were all college kids. We slept in church basements and buses, whatever we had to do. I went in as a tumbler and trampolinist, but I learned how to walk wire and juggle.
"That's where I met my ex-wife, Barbara Murray. She was a clown and a juggler from the First Presbyterian Church here where Bud Francis was director of recreational ministries. We got married the first season out. I spent three seasons with them. Bud called us and asked us to interview for the job he was vacating, and that's how I got to West Virginia.
"The church had a gymnastics team. Barbara was part of the circus team, the Tumbling Tumbleiers. Fact is, Bud was probably the icon of gymnastics in the state for several years.
"I only lasted there a year. A gentleman offered me a job running a gymnastics school he was opening. I spent one year with him. We had a disagreement over principles. Barbara's parents, Hugh and Nancy Murray, co-signed a note for us to open Maverick Gymnastics. That was about 26 years ago.
"Our first location was at Five Corners, on the second floor of the old Charleston Laundry. We opened in May, and with everyone wanting to be outdoors, it was tough to get started. I don't know why we didn't give up. We were gymnastics coaches, not business people.
"It is very difficult to stay in business in West Virginia. It doesn't seem like the state or city government tries to help you. Everything is always a battle.
"But we just kept working at it every day. We moved to Crescent Road, at the bottom of Watts Hill, and stayed there 17 years.
"When Mary Lou Retton won the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics, it turned the whole country into gymnastics mania. Mary Lou had it all, that smile that captivated the world. No one could hire enough teachers to cover the programs. Every club in the nation had waiting lists. It was a great problem to have. That lasted about two years.
Then business started dropping off again. Our sport is cyclical.
"It has kind of leveled off here now. Kids just aren't as dedicated to athletics. They just don't want to put in the time. I think there's a kind of softening up. And it takes the dedication of parents as well, and parents have busy schedules.
"Girls make up more than three-quarters of our enrollment. Gymnastics has the connotation of being a sissy sport. That's hard to understand when you see the athletes, their abilities, their strength, when you see them tumbling 8 to 10 feet in the air and landing on their feet.
"We start kids at age 2 in a 'Mom and Me' program. Carol Arthur has been with me for 20 years, and that's her favorite level to teach.
They start dropping out in junior high and high school. These guys who play football expect the girl to wait until they get done [practicing], but they can't do it the other way around while their girlfriends do gymnastics.
"We do have a variety of kids who have gone on to gymnastics in college. In February, we're running a USA Gymnastics meet in the morning, then WVU is competing in the evening. We've got four colleges coming in.
"Two years ago, Maverick moved to Chesterfield Avenue, behind the baseball park in Kanawha City. I have an option to buy that building.
"I'm glad I came to Charleston. I can't think of another place I'd rather live. When my wife and I divorced five years ago, I chose to stay. My boys had graduated from high school, and still I wanted to stay.
"Both of my boys did gymnastics, and they both help out around the gym. The youngest one teaches the boys team.
"I'm a real simple person. I enjoy the small things. Like the first time a kid does a back handspring or a cartwheel, I'm just as happy as they are.
"An Adventure in Fun" Recreational classes for ages 2- Adults Most students take one day a week.
Tumbling & Trampoline
Emphasis is placed on tumbling, trampoline, jumps and development on upper body strength.
WHAT A FUN TIME!!! Emphasis is placed on LISTENING, large motor skills, tumbling, balance, and hand/eye coordination. They learn many skills
Learn more about Maverick Gymnastics.
Need directions to Maverick Gymnastics?
Come Have FUN at Tennis Indoor Center!! 3510 Venable Ave, Charleston WV