If Geneva, Ohio, doesn’t register on your geographic radar, you are not alone. Most Americans probably are not aware this 7,000-person burg 45 miles east of Cleveland even exists. Until now, the city’s primary claims to fame have been professional baseball pitcher Brian Anderson, and the historic "claiming of the moon," announced in 1966. (The "Declaration of Lunar Ownership" stated that "the physical property of the moon shall belong exclusively to the citizens of Geneva, Ohio.")
But the days of Geneva’s obscurity may soon be coming to an end. A great work is now underway in this city, which may well change the face of athletics in America. It’s called SPIRE Institute, and it’s a gigantic, world-class sports/education/training/wellness complex, the likes of which has seldom (if ever) been seen in America.
"There’s not another athletic training facility in the country that could rival what’s in Geneva," said Olympian Michael Johnson, who chose SPIRE as the second location for his Michael Johnson Performance Center (MJP), which opened its Geneva doors in November. "The U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California comes close, but there’s nothing like SPIRE Institute for training all athletes at all levels."
SPIRE Communications Consultant Lisa Levine agrees.
"It’s an incredibly rare mix," said Levin. "We’ve brought in Olympic-grade resources on every level."
Indeed, SPIRE has already received an enthusiastic endorsement from the Olympic leadership. U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Larry Probst and USOC President/CEO Scott Blackmun recently toured SPIRE and were blown away by it, expressing confidence that the Institute would become a key player in America’s Olympic efforts.
"This is an amazing facility," said Blackmun. "I am 100 percent confident that we will have an important relationship with SPIRE, and SPIRE will play an important role in the success of our athletes moving forward."
The brainchild of Geneva industrialist Ron Clutter and his wife Tracy, SPIRE (an acronym for Sports, Philanthropy, Innovation, Rehabilitation, Education) is an enormously ambitious, multi-faceted project, designed to bring together all the disparate elements of world-class, cutting-edge athletics and performance training under one roof. A breathtaking 750,000 square feet in size, SPIRE is among the largest indoor training and competition complexes in the world.
SPIRE is currently geared toward five sports—volleyball, track and field, swimming, basketball, and soccer—with one more, lacrosse, soon to be added. The Institute boasts a unique array of state-of-the-art athletic facilities, including two indoor regulation soccer fields; a multi-purpose court surface capable of supporting twelve volleyball courts simultaneously; an aquatic center with possibly the fastest swimming pool in the country; an outdoor stadium with 10,000-seat capacity; a 215,000-square-foot track and field complex dubbed "the best in the world" by no less an authority than Johnson himself; and much more.
But as impressive as the athletic component of the institute is, it’s just one spoke of the comprehensive wheel that is SPIRE. A truly holistic conception, SPIRE’s mission is to unleash the "complete" athlete, and to this end, the institute provides facilities and resources for academic excellence, professional nutrition monitoring, and state-of-the-art performance training.
It is in this all-encompassing approach that the unique offering of SPIRE is shown, said Levine, speaking about the institute’s four main components.
"The main crux, the unique element of SPIRE, is that you have all of these world-class elements in one place," he said. "Instead of going to Arizona or Dallas for training, and then flying to California for the nutrition program, you’ve got it all under one roof."
SPIRE boasts some of the most skilled and experienced athletic coaches around, including Olympians like gold medalist Diana Munz (swimming). The volleyball program is run by John Hawks, former head coach of the U.S. Junior National Team. Under Hawks’ coaching, the U.S. juniors recently notched a fourth-place finish at the World Championships in Rio De Janeiro—the highest finish a U.S. team has ever scored at that event. Hawks also led America’s juniors to gold medals at the 2009 and 2010 Pan American Cups, so it is not too much of a stretch to say he’s one of the best youth volleyball coaches in the world.
Hawks oversees a staff of six full-time coaches (plus 28 club coaches), with two "very high level people" dedicated to camps and academy programs. Plans are underway to bring several more coaches on board in the summer timeframe.
Heading up the speed, strength, and agility training of SPIRE volleyball players is Bryan McCall, Director of Michael Johnson Performance (see below), together with his highly-skilled team of assistants.
SPIRE is only the second location in the world of Michael Johnson Performance (MJP), the state-of-the-art performance training technology designed by four-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson himself. The efficacy of the MJP system lies in its high-tech tracking of an athlete’s particular traits, and its ability to customize a tailored approach to each individual’s training using the latest technology.
McCall was hand-selected to be the director of MJP at SPIRE. He believes Michael Johnson’s techniques will be a great boon for volleyball.
"I think MJP is going to be a huge advantage for volleyball at SPIRE, because it gives the coaches more time to focus on the volleyball strategy programming, while allowing us to take over the physical development: increasing speed, jumping ability, stamina, power," McCall said.
One proactive key to the MJP approach is its use of collected data to forestall injuries, thus maximizing an athlete’s playing time.
"We’re looking at injuries. What are the typical injuries (shoulders, backs, ankles) volleyball players get? There’s a detailed process of testing physical ability, but we also want to screen them for potential injury risk as well," said McCall. "It gives us a broad panel of profiling for risk assessment. The good thing about that is it can be cutting edge, because we can bring in technology to help us with these measurements. Now you have this electronic fitness equipment for testing. It’s a lot more accurate and objective."
Through MJP, McCall said, student athletes will get the same training techniques and benefits as the world’s top professionals. "We’re bringing programs that have been used with world-class athletes in Dallas here to SPIRE."
And true to SPIRE’s stated goal of making its programs available across a broad spectrum, MJP offers training not just to collegiate and high school athletes and residential athletes, but also to summer camp participants. So no matter what your current level, you can get the same cutting-edge training the Olympians get.
Michael Johnson himself will be personally involved with SPIRE, appearing at the Institute about six times per year.
The nutrition arm of SPIRE’s diversified program is called SPIRE Fuel. For this crucial piece of the puzzle, SPIRE has partnered with a company called FLIK International, which provides training meals to NFL teams like the New York Giants, New York Jets, and Philadelphia Eagles. FLIK also supplied the food for the 2002 Olympics.
Fuel food is typically fresh, highly nutritious, locally produced, with lots of whole grains and no added trans fats. "Any athlete training at SPIRE will have the same food that the pros eat," said Levine.
And again, it’s not only the SPIRE students who can benefit from Fuel.
"It’s also available to the public," said Levine. "Anyone can swing by and get the food."
Perhaps the most highly-anticipated component of the institute is SPIRE Academy, a residential year-round boarding program for student athletes, which provides high-quality academic education, as well as top-flight training in volleyball, soccer, swimming, and track and field.
The key component of SPIRE Academy is what is known as the "post-graduate" program, which starts in fall 2012. The idea behind the post-graduate program is that kids who have just graduated from high school can opt to attend SPIRE Academy for a year, before moving on to college. By doing so, student athletes can get a full year of world-class training, dramatically boosting their chances of athletic success in college.
"For kids that aren’t necessarily ready physically, or not mature enough, we offer the post-graduate program," said Hawks. "You can take core courses toward your first year of college, without losing a year of eligibility. So there’s a huge advantage for colleges, for kids to come here, get stronger, faster, eat better, get quality training in a great environment, and then go off to college a year older with a couple less classes."
In addition to the post-graduate program, SPIRE Academy also offers additional high school programs, plus intensive weekend camps and week-long training camps (see sidebar).
One message SPIRE emphasizes is its broad outreach. Despite being a world-class, state-of-the-art athletic training facility endorsed by the U.S. Olympic Committee, SPIRE isn’t just for elite competitors; it’s for anyone who wants to become the best athlete they can be.
As its website states: "SPIRE invites athletes at all levels, in all sports, from all backgrounds to join us. SPIRE is for high achieving athletes training to reach their peak, but it is just as tailored to high school students and active seniors, Paralympians and Special Olympians, Wounded Warriors and weekend warriors. Our only criteria for acceptance are a love of sports and a desire to strengthen your mind, body and character."
"We’re trying to help each athlete maximize and reach their full potential," said Levine. "If you want to be an Olympic athlete, we’re going to help you be an Olympic athlete. If you want to be the best player on your team, we’ll help you with that."
Here is what it entails:
For more information about the SPIRE Institute, SPIRE Academy, the various programs and opportunities available, and pricing, visit the Institute’s website at spireinstitute.org
Originally published in February 2012