When the economy took a tumble, Bob Ouellette turned to gymnastics to improve his financial footing.
Less than three years after leaving the sport to start his own home improvement company, the 36-year-old Laurel resident appears at home among the equipment at Maryland Gymnastics in Millersville.
Ouellette took over as team director for Mark Weber, who left the Docksiders in June to accept a job at Artistic Gymnastics in Melbourne, Fla.
Ouellette rested his elbow on a balance beam yesterday morning and explained the circumstances surrounding his return to the gym.
"The job opened up and they asked me if I wanted to do it," he said, scanning the 11,200-square-foot facility that serves as "Home of the Docksiders." "I was thinking, 'Home improvement isn't going the best right now, so maybe this will be a better alternative.' "
Providing an alternative for youngsters was another factor that spurred his acceptance of the position.
"Basically, my main reason for wanting to get back into coaching is because of the kids," said Ouellette, who has two of his own in Steven, 2 1/2 , and Stephanie, 4 months. "I'd rather see them in here doing something constructive and making something better of themselves than out on the street being destructive."
A Rockville native and graduate of Frostburg State University, Ouellette has seen enough dismounts to know the criticisms he will face in his inaugural year as team director. And he's also familiar with the double-edge sword that any coach who inherits a successful program must face.
"Mark created the base, so what did I really do?" said Ouellette, paraphrasing the inevitable question. "I just took over and they did what they were supposed to do. But, if I fail this year and something goes wrong, then I'll be noted for the failure. So, the first year, I'm in a no-win situation -- which is OK."
Weber was known for going beyond the line of duty in helping his gymnasts earn college scholarships, and during his eight-year tenure he helped 17 gymnasts get free rides to such renowned programs as Brigham Young, Duke, Georgia and Oklahoma State. Ouellette said he will try to continue that tradition and feels his track record speaks for itself.
"My past experience in gymnastics is sufficient enough that every senior I have ever had graduate got a college scholarship," said Ouellette, who coached gymnastics at Fairland Gymnastics in Prince George's County from 1982 through 1989. "I think my strong point is I'm very positive.
"Everything they do, they get criticized on. They start out with 10 points and [the judges] take things away. They don't add more for doing something good, they are always taking something away from you."
Allana Bailey, a Level 9 gymnast from Suitland in Prince George's County, tried hard not to offend her former coach while complimenting Ouellette for his patience and understanding.
"He works us really hard, but he's more sensitive to our individual needs," said Bailey, 17. "With Bob, you will do it, but he explains more of what the skill is about to get a better understanding of it. Mark wasn't a bad coach, but he just used a different approach."
Stephanie Light, a 16-year-old Pasadena resident and a junior at Chesapeake High, said she misses Coach Weber, but finds Coach Ouellette's lighthearted approach to the sport refreshing.
"He's cool," said Light, a Level 9 gymnast. "He's more easygoing than Mark and he's more laid-back, but he still pushes you really hard. Bob always has a good joke . . . well, they're not always good jokes, but he always tries to crack a joke."