Danny Irish set to begin his 30th year with the Paxton Park District

PAXTON -- Once Session A of the Paxton Park District’s gymnastics and tumbling class starts on Sept. 7, it will mark the 30th year instructor Danny Irish has taught classes in Paxton through the Park District.  
 
Irish, of Cissna Park and formerly of Paxton, is the owner and head instructor at Irish’s Gymnastics in Gilman.
 
Raised in Averill Park, New York, Irish got involved in gymnastics at the age of five.  
 
“I was one of nine siblings, I got involved in gymnastics because of my brothers” Irish says.  
 
As a youth, he also played football and hockey, as well as being a member of his high school wrestling team.  
 
His career in coaching gymnastics began in 1976, and continued upon entering the United States Air Force in 1980. His career in the Air Force brought him to Paxton, as he was assigned to Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul as a military instructor.  
 
Irish’s first gym was a school bus he transformed into a mobile gym.  
 
“We had rings, everything was carpeted, air conditioning,” Irish says about his refurbished school bus.  
 
Eventually, the gym on wheels made stops at 10-12 area day cares each week to hold classes. Irish grew his business and eventually housed Irish’s Gymnastics in Rantoul before moving to his current 10,000-square-foot facility in Gilman.    
 
Irish’s relationship with the Paxton Park District was formed in 1988 as former Park District Recreation Director Bob Nuckols hired him to coach a gymnastics program.  
“For the past 30 years, I have held Park District classes on Friday afternoons at Clara Peterson” Irish states.  
 
Nuckols, who struggled finding a qualified, consistent instructor for the Park District’s gymnastics program, knew he found the right guy when Irish started.  
 
“When you talk to Danny, you can just feel the enthusiasm, his enthusiasm he has for the kids.”  Nuckols continued. “He jokes and laughs with the kids, and that’s what they need. He’s a terrific guy.”  
 
When Nuckols left the Paxton Park District in the mid 90’s to take a position with the Rantoul Recreation Department, he created a program specifically for Irish to instruct there, which also allowed him to continue in Paxton on Friday afternoons.    
 
Current director, Neal McKenry, has high praise for Irish as well.  
 
“Danny is a fantastic coach with the kids," McKenry said. "He makes it fun. His level of patience is unbelievable. Occasionally it can get pretty hot in the gym at Clara Pete. Add to it you have a dozen or so small kids running around, several of whom only listen to every other thing you say, I couldn’t last a month, let alone 30 years.”
 
Jeff Ingold of Paxton, whose daughter, Callie, began coming to the Park District’s gymnastics program as a pre-schooler and is currently one of Irish’s athletes at his Gilman gym, adds more praise to Irish’s abilities as a coach and mentor.  
 
“Danny is patient and helps the kids understand they can do whatever they put their mind to. Traveling to Madison, Wisconsin, for nationals last year also was also a big positive for Callie in terms of self-esteem.” 
 
Paxton resident Shannon Wurmnest shares the same sentiment.  Her children, Tessa and Gavin, have been in the Park District program for several sessions over the past few years. 
 
"Danny is so positive and is great with the kids," Wurmnest said. "My nephews did gymnastics with Danny many years ago & now my two kids are taking his classes.  He's so patient with them and you can tell that he enjoys what he does.  And the smiles on the kids' faces is a plus.  You can tell they are having fun."
 
“We (the Park District) are definitely lucky to have someone as qualified, respected, and personable as Danny. I hope he’s not considering retirement anytime soon” states McKenry.  
 
“The kids really enjoy Danny. He does a great job in not only teaching gymnastics skills, but he’s also very encouraging and helps instill confidence in the kids.”  
 
According to Irish, “gymnastics helps in many areas that end up benefiting children who also participate in other sports. Flexibility, coordination, balance and strength are a few examples.” 
 
“He also encourages kids to practice their skills at home”, McKenry says. “No matter the sport or activity, you’re only going to get better by continuing to practice on your own.” 
 
McKenry conservatively estimates at least 3,500 kids have gone through the Park District gymnastics program with Danny over the last 30 years. Last year, through the seven separate sessions that spanned the 2017-18 school year, the Park District received 169 sign-up’s for the program.  
 
Irish said he is thrilled with the amount of interest there continues to be in gymnastics.  
 
“Over the past few years, the classes have really increased in size, I think due in some part, to our director” Irish states.  
 
Out of all of the children who have gone through Irish’s instruction, a few of them have stood out, not only to Irish himself, but to the national and international gymnastics community as well.  
 
One of those students, of whom Irish terms “his elite athletes”, even got their start in the Park District program. 
 
Irish boasts of Garrett Waterstadt’s accomplishments.  
 
“He started classes at the age of two. Eventually he was competing all over the United States as well as internationally in England, Portugal, Bulgaria and became a World Champion," Irish states.
 
“Sydney Brust is another one. Started Park District classes at the age of three. She has competed all over the United States. she is one of my up and coming elite athletes now.”
 
Many of the students who begin with the Park District program continue with the sport, training at the Irish’s Gymnastics facility in Gilman. According to Irish, the facility is 10,000 square feet with five full-size professional trampolines, three double-mini trampolines, a tumble track, a power-tumbling floor, and a 42x42 Olympic-style tumbling floor.  
 
There is also a 10x17 foam block pit for advanced level training. At Irish’s Gilman facility, classes are offered year-round with summer day camps in July. Irish offers all new students one free trial class. To schedule a trial class at Irish’s Gymnastics, one can contact the gym at (815) 265-4728 or email dawnirish123@gmail.com.
 
Through the Park District, there are three four-week sessions available for registration, with the first session (A) needing registration turned in by Sept. 3. There will be four additional sessions beginning in January.  
 
The Park District classes feature three separate classes per Friday, with a Pre-K, a beginner I, and a beginner II offering. Registration forms can be printed out at www.paxtonparkdistrict.com or picked up at the Paxton Civic Center. 

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