The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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November 17, 2013

A Buhl retool

Changes have club membership growing

SHARON — Tony Rogers doesn’t want to borrow someone else’s marketing slogan, nor does he want to step on a century of tradition.

But, the first-year director of the Buhl Community Recreation Center, Sharon, believes the sentiment is true – this is not your grandfather’s Buhl Club.

The club is expanding hours, adding programs, investing in equipment and listening to its members.

As a result, membership is starting to tick up, and the club is in the black for the first time in some years.

The club retains the mission set by Frank and Julia Buhl, who founded it in 1903: to provide quality recreational, social, fitness and educational programs for people of all ages.

“Still very relevant,” Rogers said. “Probably more relevant today than it was in 1903.”

However, the club has to evolve to meet the needs and wants of a changing community, he said.

Under Rogers, who started in January, it has added a vision statement with goals of creating a positive, accepting environment, helping members achieve excellence, enriching lives and adding years to lives.

“We ask ourselves, ‘What would Frank Buhl want us to do today?’” Rogers said.

Not only was Buhl’s memory consulted, members also got their say. A survey helped officials formulate new programs and amenities.

Members said they wanted more aquatic programs, so five new swim classes, from basic lessons to water exercises to an introduction to competitive swimming, were added, beginning Monday.

The club created a youth fitness center with blow-up play equipment, doubled the spinning area, bought hydraulic equipment for injury rehabilitation and invested $100,000 in new cardiovascular, weight and strength-training equipment.

“The equipment is awesome,” said Andie Bach of Brookfield, a five-year member. “I love the changes.”

The snack machines have been jettisoned, and a juice bar is being built, which should be open by Thanksgiving.

The club has a relationship with Sharon schools to provide speed, agility and strength training, and officials are hoping more schools will avail themselves of the club’s equipment.

Other new fitness activities include rock ’n’ roll and high-heel exercise programs and hot yoga.

“If you asked me about six months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything about it,” Rogers said of hot yoga. “It has a great following.”

The club’s hours were expanded to 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekends, also in response to members.

“I come in here at 5 (a.m.) and there are 40 to 50 cars in here,” Rogers said.

The club is developing a mixed martial arts program and offers enrichment programs including German language classes, musical instrument and voice lessons, crocheting and bridge.

“It’s, hopefully, comprehensive to the level that the people of our community say, ‘Hey, there is something here for me,’ ” Rogers said.

Bach said she likes that the Buhl Club members are respectful and keep their comments to themselves, something she said wasn’t always the case in gyms she has gone to over the past 30 years.

“This is a great place to work out,” said Christopher Sheffield of Sharon, who comes to the club through an arrangement with Pennsylvania State University, where he is a student.

“It’s a nice place to relax,” Sheffield said. “It’s a good environment. It’s not too loud like other gyms.”

Sheffield added that he plays basketball at the club and has enjoyed the sauna.

Membership is at about 2,000 and “starting to grow,” Rogers said.

“People are starting to see what we’re doing, and they’re coming back.”

Agencies, foundations, businesses and individuals also are stepping up with donations of money and, such as in the case of the juice bar, materials and labor.

The staff of five full-timers and 30 part-timers are augmented by a corps of 100 volunteers, who do everything from manning the office to offering fitness programs and monitoring activities.

Rogers is a 1976 Sharon High grad who left the area after high school and spent 30 years with a youth leadership development organization.

He said he is happy to return to the valley and an institution that has meant so much to his family.

“I’m a product of this place,” he said, and noted he has his father’s old locker at the club.

“When there was an opportunity to come back here as director, I did so with a smile and a happy heart,” Rogers said.

“I feel like I’m here for a purpose,” he said. “It’s important to continue to make sure this is an integral part of the community.”

The club will hold a Black Friday membership drive Nov. 29 and 30, offering discounts on memberships to new members, or those who have not been members since December 2011. Discounts start at 50 percent for people who come between 6 and 9 a.m., and decrease as the day goes on.

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