Sokol Tabor adapts with the times

An instructor assists a child on the high bars at Sokol Tabor

By: Rene Howard-Paez

It’s not every day that you see a 100-year-old heritage-based center remain in small city.  But Sokol Tabor has done just that.

Sokol Tabor, located on 16th Street and Clarence Avenue, offers physical training in gymnastics and other athletics, rooted in Czech culture.

Sokol Tabor is the second ever to open in the United States and originally began in Pilsen.

According to Maureen Stanko, women’s physical director, the center currently has 132 members, ranging in age from 3 to 75 enrolled in various programs such as gymnastics, volleyball, basketball and zumba.  

Sokol Tabor is a non-profit organization relying heavily on membership dues and grants from the City of Berwyn and the Czech embassy.

Stanko said Sokol Tabor is doing the best it can under the current economic circumstances.

“In the changing economy it’s always a struggle to be able to afford the services and equipment. We do a lot of fundraising in the surrounding community and grant money is used for instructor stipends or equipment,” Stanko said.

A typical night at the Sokol Tabor includes an upstairs gym full of children and a basement with dancing adults. Upon entering the gym you can see kids of all different colors all receiving gymnastics instructions. Some swung on the high bars, and others practiced flips or lifted themselves on the rings.

Berwyn’s population has changed sharply since Sokol Tabor open its doors, with fewer Czechs and a majority of Latinos.  But that has not deterred membership.

“We pretty much accept everyone into our classes, only time there might be an issue is translating between a coach and a parent, but we usually get by,” she said.

Even though there is a diverse population of members at Sokol Tabor, the Czech culture is not ignored.

“We still do educate them in the ideas that our Sokol founding fathers rooted the first Sokol on, and often education directors come in and talk to the students in some type of sokol or Czech background,” Stanko added.

Sokol Tabor has many long-time members, such as Veronica Walinski. Walinski, 17, has been involved at Sokol Tabor for seven years, and her family has been involved for more than 50.

According to Walinski, Sokol Tabor doesn’t only offer classes, but also gives the chance to compete.

“We go to Sokol competitions where we compete against other Sokol’s such as the one in Naperville, Brookfield and Downers Grove.”

The Sokol Tabor gymnastics team is also not limited to national completion.

“Last summer we went to the Czech Republic to participate in a competition there,” Walinski added.

According to the Sokol Tablor website, Sokol was originally founded in 1862 in Czechoslovakia, which is now the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic. Sokol’s first unit in America was started in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1865.

Although Sokol Tabor is rooted in Czech culture, that doesn’t deter their outreach.

“Although it is a Czech program, the ideals are universal,” Stanko said.

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