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Greg Peters column: The River Falls State Bank Center wow factor

Greg Peters

A 3-year-old boy walked in the front door of the brand new River Falls State Bank Center with his mom this past week. It was the first official day the River Falls Gymnastic Club was open for

business in their new digs.

The little boy was excited to jump around on the gymnastic equipment upstairs but it was a different place than he was used to going during his short-tenured gymnastics career.

River Falls Gymnastic Club head coach and board member, Debbie Tradewell, was showing me the donor sign in the entryway and opened the door for the visiting mother/son combo.

"Welcome to our new gym," Tradewell said to both.

"I like the old gym," whined the little boy.

The boy's mom apologized and told him not to worry.

Tradewell seemed confused at the initial response and quickly replied, "No, you're going to like this one, I promise."

After two quick 3-year-old steps inside, the little boy leaped in the air with excitement and yelled,


Tradewell laughed and a proud calming smile from ear-to-ear validated her promise.

It's impossible for 3-year-olds to lie. I learned this lesson trying to avoid paying for an extra plane ticket with one on my lap years ago.

River Falls State Bank Center, the new home to the River Falls Gymnastics Club, took years of planning and elbow fundraising grease. All the efforts and, most specifically, the results, were eloquently summed up with one single word from the mouth of a 3-year-old kid. Wow.

This, however, isn't a column about the $1.3 million privately funded River Falls State Bank Center or the $75,000 given by River Falls State Bank for naming rights. The real "wow factor" behind the "wow" is Debbie Tradewell.

Debbie barely looks 30 years old, but she's been the head coach and involved with the club since 1988.

She is the proverbial foundation on which the brand new center is built.

"A lot of people come and go," said RFGC Board President Julie Bruns, "but Debbie has been here the whole time. She is so dedicated."

There were about 50 kids signed up for the River Falls Community Ed gymnastics program in 1988 when Tradewell started. Thirty years later, the transformed RFGC has over 500 kids in the program and a new home they can call their own.

Deb Timmerman and Connie Foster were trailblazers for gymnastics in town in the beginning. Their efforts are the reason Debbie Tradewell went to UWRF for gymnastics and came to work for the program in the first place. Tradewell, a St. Francis, Minn., native, had just graduated from UWRF, and at that time, was an assistant coach for the Falcons.

"My college roommate and I were trying to write by-laws at my kitchen table and we were 20-nothing (about 22 years old)," said Tradewell. "We couldn't Google it. I called other programs and asked what they did."

Fast forward through the next 30 years. Board members came and went. The club's rented address changed three times, including the campus of UWRF, the building next to Jackelen Auto Body, and the one next to Greenskeepers, but through the next three decades and all those changes, only two things have remained constant: the kids and Debbie Tradewell.

"It really is a family," said Bruns. "These kids are her kids."

"I love what gymnastics teaches," said Tradewell. "I mean how many times do you fail before you succeed? You fall down, you have to pick yourself up and try it again. Gymnastics helps these kids face down their fears."

Wildcat high school gymnastics has been one of the most successful gymnastics programs in the state the past two decades, qualifying for the state tournament the last 17 years in a row.

Tradewell said, "When the high school succeeds, little kids want to be in gymnastics."

Rinse and repeat. A good formula for a gymnastics program and shampooing.

The squeaky clean. shiny. new River Falls State Bank Center, however, was not squarely built on the biceps of Tradewell and she will be the first to tell anyone this.

"This building would not be here if it wasn't for Julie Bruns," said Tradewell. "If we want to 'get there,' Julie Bruns is going to find you a way to get there. We had a plan and it was all designed by Julie."

There's only one thing I can say about the RFGC, River Falls State Bank, Debbie Tradewell, Julie Bruns, and the rest of their gymnastics family. To steal the one-word line from a budding 3-year-old wordsmith, "Wow."

The adult addendum from thousands of kids now called RFGC alums would likely say, "Trade-Wow."