This is the fourth in a series of articles on the 2017 Class of the Clinton County County Sports Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame induction ceremony and dinner will be held 5:30 p.m. June 15 at the Expo Center on the Clinton County Fairgrounds. The doors will open at 5 p.m. The Wilmington News Journal Clinton County Scholar-Athlete Award also will be presented June 15. Cost is $25 if paid at the door the night of the event. NEXT UP: Rodney “Butch” Whitaker.
Some people just have a knack for being an entrepreneur, even at an early age. Joni Burgess Streber, at age 14, had that knack.
Put that knack with a burning desire to coach and teach others how to be successful as gymnasts, and you get the perfect formula for someone like Streber.
Consider, she owned her own dance studio when she was 14 years old. And despite four successful years, Streber made the transition to a gymnastics-based facility and began cranking out national and world champions like Hershey manufactures chocolate bars.
No fewer than 50 national champions and at least 15 world champions have been coached by Streber.
“I quit counting,” she quipped.
Streber’s career as a business owner began following a personal setback. As an athlete, Streber was an accomplished dancer.
“I was dancing with the Cincinnati Children’s Ballet. I was dancing with people from Xavier University,” she said.
Then Streber came down with Rheumatic fever when she was 12 or 13.
“It lasted about a year,” she said. “I had to stop everything for a while. I couldn’t even go out and ride a bike. I was really sick. I don’t remember much about it.”
She does remember the shots and the bruises, neither of which she cared for much as she thought back to her formative years.
“When I got the Rheumatic fever, my body changed,” she said. “It threw me in to puberty. I didn’t really fit that (dance) mold any more.”
So at age 14, Streber decided to teach others how to dance, whether it was ballet, jazz or tap. She also wanted to teach tumbling.
Streber approached officials at the First Christian Church about renting the Nellie Moore Christian Education Building. The church officials agreed to Streber’s conditions and so the story begins.
“I had a bar for ballet. I had mirrors for ballet. I had a tumbling mat and I had a little beam, a low level beam,” she said. “I started buying up equipment and it got bigger and bigger. There was nothing really in Wilmington (like it) and I needed a job.
“When I think of it now, I think who really does that? Nobody.’”
Streber, to her best recollection, said 50 students signed up the first day. She went from teaching two days a week to four days in short order. Her mom kept the books because Joni “hated the business side of it.”
But, Streber admits, “It paid for my first car. It paid for an international exchange (student) program (trip) to Europe. It paid for my first couple of years of college.”
Streber said most coaches stay in the business five to 10 years then get out. After four years as primarily a dance studio, Streber’s business switched gears to gymnastics and became Wilmington Gymnastics. There are three types of gymnastics — rhythmic, acrobatic and artistic, the best known of the three because of the Olympics.
Streber knew nothing of acrobatic gymnastics. “But when we found out there was tumbling competitions, trampoline competitions and acrobatic competitions, that’s what we jumped on because it didn’t require all that extra equipment,” she said.
Acro-gymnastics provided Streber with a perfect springboard to coaching stardom, even though she didn’t do it for her own acclaim.
“My job was always to make somebody else that perfect, award-winner … to be able to sit back and watch that happen was so exciting to me,” she said. “And a lot of them did not come from Christian homes but they turned out to be good Christian people. Christianity was always an important part of my gym.”
After nearly more than 20 years, Streber took a break from coaching because of her job. In 2000, she was diagnosed with cancer. Several years later, the cancer came back.
“I knew I had to change my lifestyle,” she admitted.
In 2007 Streber became Manager of Public Services at Wilmington College and worked with the cheerleading program as a way to get her cancer-ravaged body back into shape.
“Chemo is such a killer,” she said. “You lose everything. That (cheerleading) gave me a foothold to get back, a goal.”
Streber no longer works with the cheerleaders at WC but has returned to help former students who now own Aerials Athletics. Streber may not be the same physically as she once was but her passion for gymnastics remains at an all-time high.
“I told them I’d help them with whatever they need but I’m not here to take over. I’m not here to run it,” she said. “Even still today, those coaches (at Aerials) are my students. If they hear my voice in a certain tone, their heads flip around.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports