Cal Ripken sports center to shut down this month

Columbia facility may move to Aberdeen

Small business

March 04, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

After three years of training athletes to run faster and jump higher, the Cal Ripken Jr. Sports Acceleration Center will close this month, a spokesman for Ripken and the center said.

Ripken, who owns the center, likely will re-deploy elsewhere, possibly in the baseball complex he is building in Aberdeen, the spokesman said.

"We made the decision to pull in the concept," John C. Maroon said. "We wanted to do it so we can apply certain aspects of it down the road. Cal very much liked the acceleration program and how it worked with kids, and how it fit in with our youth focus."

The Columbia center, which employs two trainers full time and a few part-time, seasonal workers, is scheduled to close March 15.

The company will refund money to customers who paid for springtime training programs, Maroon said.

The sports acceleration center provides specialized fitness training programs for young athletes, which focus on helping them run faster, jump higher, improve coordination and become more agile.

The center offers personal training during six- and seven-week programs tailored to specific sports.

The $500 to $600 programs train athletes three times a week in two-hour sessions on specialized equipment.

According to trainer Mark Shropshire, about 1,500 athletes have worked out at the center during the past 3 1/2 years, and the program has been popular.

Several students from Howard High School have gone through both the acceleration program and a summer program conducted at the school, said athletic director Vincent Parnell.

He said he was surprised the business was closing, and that it would be missed because the program has made "a tremendous difference" in his athletes.

"It gave us access to the next level of training," he said. "We don't have the facilities or the latest training technologies. We'll try to replace it, but it won't be the same."

Though popular, the center has never drawn enough people to make money, Maroon said.

The sports acceleration center, at the Route 100 business park, just off Route 100 in Columbia, opened in May 1998 with much fanfare, as a joint venture between Ripken and LifeBridge Health, which operates a number of health care facilities, including Sinai Hospital.

The health care company bought into the concept as part of its broader strategy to find other revenue sources because government funding and insurance reimbursement was tightening.

In 1998, plans were made for a second center to open in Fairfax County in Northern Virginia within a year, and a third shortly afterward, but they were never realized.

Instead, Ripken assumed ownership of the facility in September 1999, saying he would change the name and tweak the concept, focusing on a broader range of athletes -- weekend warriors who want to improve their golf strokes or basketball jump shots and increase strength.

Plans at that time also called for a sports medicine component with physical and occupational therapy.

None of those plans materialized, either.

The center shared its facility with Physiotherapy Associates, a physical therapy and rehabilitation center. Physiotherapy Associates will remain open when the acceleration center shuts down.

Most recently, the company tried revitalizing the concept by adding weight machines and gym equipment, in a bid to sell personal training and health club memberships.

The club memberships constituted between 2 percent and 5 percent of revenues, Shropshire said, and they apparently weren't enough to make the business profitable.

"[Revenues] improved over the last eight months or so, but not to the point where we thought it was viable," Maroon said.

Ripken is considering working the acceleration programming into an established health club or into the $35 million complex he is building in Aberdeen for the Ripken Youth Baseball Academy. Either plan would help give it more visibility than the almost hidden location in Columbia, Maroon said.

The youth baseball academy is scheduled to open in summer 2003.

"We're taking all our resources and funneling it into what Cal's doing in Aberdeen," Maroon said. "It may fit in very well with what Cal's building up there."

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