Ex-gymnast, Detroit native starts city program

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Zoe Anderson came to Joe Dumars Field House Saturday morning inspired.

Detroit children having gymnastics lessons as part of an open house kicking off a new youth gymnastics program sponsored by the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation on Saturday.

The seven-year-old Detroit resident was wowed this summer by the skills of U.S. gymnasts Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas.

“They are very competitive and they are not quitters,” Anderson said. “I want to be confident and I want to be good at it.”

And she may soon be practicing her own flips close to home.

Detroit native and former gymnast Wendy Hilliard on Saturday launched a new gymnastics program at the field house on the former state fair grounds. Dozens of kids came to the open house Saturday and received a lesson, watched others perform and were able to sign up for classes that begin in October.

Wendy Hilliard, of the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics foundation, gets the program going at the new youth gymnastics program sponsored at the Joe Dumars Field House in Detroit on Saturday.

“This is my way of giving back,” said Hilliard. “The key to me is that it is in the community. We have something close to where they live.”

Hilliard, a Cass Technical High School graduate, started gymnastics at age 12 through a city recreation program. She went on to become a Hall of Fame rhythmic gymnast and the first African-American to represent the U.S. in international competition.

About 20 years ago, she launched a similar program through her foundation in Harlem, New York offering free and low cost gymnastics training. Hilliard said they wanted to launch Detroit’s program after the Olympics to piggyback on the excitement surrounding the sport.

“Everybody wants to do gymnastics now,” said Kristie Darko, operations manager. “If your kid can’t stop jumping around, you should bring them here.”

The classes will be held Saturday mornings for boys and girls ages 5-17 through June. The cost is $50 a month but financial aid is available for those who qualify. The foundation hopes to expand with its own facility in the next one to two years, Hilliard said. For more information got to

It couldn’t come soon enough for Anderson, who said she’s wanted to take classes since she was three and practices flips in her bedroom.

“We push kids to be their best,” Hilliard said. “What we want to give them is pride and confidence.”