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Director hopes kids flip over gym

Wants to bring in soccer, other sports

For the 50 kids who just filed through the door, Lorenzo SantaBarbara's gym is unknown territory.

But he's quick to make them feel at home: Oh, you are going to have so much fun!

Within minutes the kids are sprawled out on mats, running, stretching and bouncing to the rhythm of jumping jacks.

SantaBarbara, executive director of the Flip City Sports Center, has some big plans for the gym, tucked away in an old warehouse on Fir Street in Medford. He wants to turn it into a kid-friendly, all-purpose sports center.

The first step was to change the name from Oregon Sports Center, which SantaBarbara felt was too stodgy.

This is a facility for Medford, he says. It's a facility for kids to physically and socially develop.

Right now, the 12,000-square-foot one-time candy factory is used primarily for gymnastics, but SantaBarbara hopes to expand it to include dance classes as well as indoor soccer and other sports.

First, he aims to make the cavernous warehouse more aesthetically pleasing. There's something dark and dingy about it, and for kids, it needs to be lightened up, he says.

He also hopes to double the number of kids who participate _ right now, about 300 _ and buy some new equipment.

We're in a new place, starting over again with a new image, SantaBarbara says.

The Oregon Sports Center was born when two gyms merged in 1986 to form a nonprofit organization. SantaBarbara moved from Seattle, where he was a dance teacher, to take over management of the financially struggling center.

He aims to raise $50,000 for gym improvements, costs that would be well-spent, according to one coach.

Chris Blache, who coaches gymnastics there, says the new center should be a bright spot for kids in an otherwise boring Rogue Valley.

I think it's pretty exciting, he says. It's such an awesome place for kids _ they love it, they're hooked.

Seven coaches work at the school, and the center's board of directors is a group of parents. SantaBarbara says this is consistent with his goal of a community- and family-based sports center. He wants to appeal to the talking, walking and consulting element of Medford.

It's about more than a physical education, SantaBarbara adds. It's about the social and physical aspects of being human beings.''

If he succeeds with his expansion plans, the sports center will eventually accommodate Head Start students as well as blind and disabled kids, SantaBarbara adds.

While money has been a problem in the past, SantaBarbara hopes to use fund raisers and grants to get the school on its feet. We live from one month to the next, he says.

If all goes well, SantaBarbara hopes some improvements can be made by the end of the year, but regardless of how long it takes he has confidence in his plan of building a sports center on strong principles and values.

We're reaching out to what Medford is all about, he says.