u LITTLE did he know, but when he took his son Derek to a sports day in Grangemouth in the early 1980s it would lead ex-Bonnybridge Juniors footballer Robert Callahan, to 25 years of teaching gymnastics.
Derek, of course, is a Scottish champion and represented Scotland in the 1990 Commonwealth Games. But Derek, son of Robert and Jean (pictured below right), also represented Falkirk school of gymnastics, in Cow Wynd.
This year, the centre celebrated a quarter of a century, with Provost Pat Reid marking the 25 years by a civic reception.
Quite an achievement for a school which wasn’t given much hope of running the Old Drill Hall when it first took over in September 1986.
“At the time one of the councillors doubted we could run the building,” remembers MBE Robert, who is school director and also chair of Falkirk Sports Council. “He said no club could run the building and the upkeep without the council.
“But a few years later, at our tenth anniversary he admitted he was wrong and congratulated us on what we’d achieved.”
At that stage, the building in Cow Wynd was shared between the gymnastics club, a model railway club, a table-tennis team and Falkirk company of archers. It’s also been a homeless office in the past, but now, it’s solely in the hands of the gymnastics school and welcomes more than 500 people a week through the doors.
“We put the pit in where the table tennis used to practise, and there’s raised seating where the archery range used to be.”
Through the back, in the model railway area, is the toddlers and pre-school area for Jumping Beans, organised by Robert’s wife Jean.
“I take a lot out of training the children with the basics,” she tells The Falkirk Herald. “I’ve done it in schools, while Robert focuses more on the experienced pupils.
“I get a real joy out of seeing someone leave the school having completed an exercise they couldn’t do when they entered.”
Robert, on the other hand, takes the Infinity group of elite athletes and has high hopes for a few, including Stephen Tonge, an academy squad prospect for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in two years’ time.
The school opens for pre-school classes each Tuesday and Wednesday morning, with elite groups, recreational and after-school clubs at night.
Dance groups have also begun to take an interest in the facilities, and the crossover between dance and gymnastics has developed a new influx of gymnast dancers.
“That’s the latest development,” says Robert, “but all the areas of the building are used.
“We have committee rooms and residential areas upstairs, and can accommodate birthday parties, while downstairs we have the office and the gymnasium itself.”
It’s a long way since the determination of Robert and Jean pushed for use of a facility in Falkirk back in the 1980s.
“Derek, and a few others were doing well, but we needed something specifically for gymnastics.
“This was going spare and when the Mariner Centre opened we were able to move in and really push on.”
Three clubs - Grangemouth Boys, Falkirk Fawns and Grangemouth Girls combined to form the school, which was extensively renovated in 1993 and then had the upstairs re-modelled with Lottery cash in 1997.
Weekly subscriptions of members pay for the up-keep of the school, which is run by volunteers, including Robert and Jean.
But the mighty oak that has taken root in the centre of Falkirk started with a humble acorn when Derek, in his early school years, said ‘I’d like to try that Dad,’ after a gymnastics exhibition in Grangemouth.
He signed up for the club on the same day as gold medallist Steve Frew. They eventually went to their separate clubs, with Derek (pictured above) representing Scotland at the Commonwealth Games along with Gayle Campbell. And the rest is history.
But that Falkirk gymnastic history also incorporates a lot of dedication and hard work from the Callahans, and also David Mould.
“We have to thank David,” stresses Jean. “Without him, none of this would be possible.”
Mr Mould was director of leisure at Falkirk Council at a key time in the school of gymnastics’ life.
Robert added: “He had the vision to believe in this school and helped bring major events to Falkirk.
“He was brilliant.”
Derek admits switching from football to an indoor sport like gymnastics was a pleasant change, but he has plied a huge amount of time and effort into the club.
“The peak for the club would have been in the early 1990s when we had our Russian coach. I think we had every champion in Scotland here at one stage,” said Robert.
As well as being an honorary member of Scottish and British gymnastics, he’s also an advisor to the 2014 Games in Glasgow and was given a guided tour around the new facilities last week. Glasgow doesn’t know how good they’ve got it.
“The gymnastics school has taken me all over the world and the gymnasium I saw last week was up there with the best in the world.”
Listening to the Callahans’ enthusiasm and looking around the impressive local facility, it’s clear to see why the gymnastics school in Cow Wynd will always be a special place.
“Although the building is old and still leaks occasionally, it is still loved by all who come through the doors. It would be nice to imagine that this would still be the case 25 years from now, in 2036.”