The History of the Panthers Gymnastics Club

In 1966, the Panthers started in the Norwood-St.Boniface area of Winnipeg under the guidance of Mrs.Ingrid Pichette. There were 17 members. They used gymnasiums and equipment provided by the St.Boniface-St.Vital Parks Board. At that time they were named the Purple Panthers.

By 1979, the club had grown and it became obvious that to develop further, they needed a permanent facility. Warehouse space was found, rented and transformed into a gymnasium.

In 1980, a contest was held to find a logo for the club. Debbie McDowell won the contest. Her drawing consisted of a paw print formed of 4 filled circles. The four circles represent the four events in artistic gymnastics. The large circle represents the floor and the other 3 smaller ones the bars, the beam and finally the vault.

The Panthers parent organization raised funds to purchase the necessary equipment for this new facility. With this much needed change, Panthers were able to develop and produce many top gymnasts including 1988 Olympian, Lynette Wittmeier and other national stream athletes.

December of 1990 saw a great stepping stone in the history of the Panthers and gymnastics in Manitoba. The club purchased its own building - an 12,000 sq.ft. facility - our current facility!

In August, 1991, this new facility became operational. The gymnasium has many built-in safety features including: two in-ground trampolines and two huge foam filled pits. These features make learning new skills a fun, challenging and safe experience. Panthers is the most completely equipped gym in Manitoba and also the only air conditioned gym in Manitoba!

In August 1991, in conjunction with the opening of the new facility, Panthers hired the husband and wife coaching team of Robert Persechino and Helene Desmarais. Their coaching gave Panthers the coaching excellence and leadership needed to continue the tradition of excellence which had been established.

In 1995, Gymnastics Canada named Robert Persechino the National Stream Coach of the Year. Helene Desmarais was given the same honour by Gymnastics Canada in 1998.

In 1996, Panthers gymnasts Krista Hirose and Katie McAvoy represented Canada in Cuba and came back with many awards. Krista was Canada's best vaulter.

In 1997, Katie McAvoy, now a National Team member competed at the World Gymnastics Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland. She was instrumental in helping Team Canada place 8th. This placing placed Canada back in the top 10 for the first time in many years.

In 1999, all seven of the athletes who represented Manitoba at Canada Winter Games in Cornerbrook, Newfoundland, came from Panthers Gymnastics Club. This result was a first in Manitoba and probably in Canada!

In 2000, Jholeen Ponce became the Manitoba Women's Gymnastics champion for the third time in a row. She is the only gymnast to have accomplished this feat. Jholeen also represented Canada in Hungary where she won a Bronze medal on Floor Exercise.

In 2006, Panthers Gymnastics celebrated 40 years of excellence and services in the community. Panthers is one of the oldest clubs in Canada.

In 2010 Gabrielle May was named to the Canadian Team for the XIX Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India. The Team came 3rd and Gabrielle brought back a second Bronze medal for her splendid performance during Vault Finals.

For the past several years, Panthers have systematically placed over 10 gymnasts on the provincial teams representing Manitoba at National and Western Canadian Championships. It is the club that has, by far, the highest production of high quality gymnasts in the province!

Panthers has produced 5 National Team members, over 40 National stream athletes and over 12 High Performance Gymnasts. Other successful Panthers Gymnasts such as Michelle Sill and Leah Dlot also won medals in international meets.


In 2011 the club celebrated its 45th year of service in the community.


In 2013 the club decided to expand some more by adding a 3 600 sq/ft to its existing building. In doing so, Panthers is in a position to offer more gymnastics classes to the community.


 With its 15 000 sq/ft facility, Panthers is the largest and most equipped gymnastics facility in Manitoba.

The club is currently providing programs to over 800 members. It offers training for Elite and Provincial level competitive gymnasts. As well it provides quality recreational programs for children from the age of two and up.