Towny Waco: Longtime Friendship behind Flips Gymnastics

(Welcome to the Act Locally Waco/Towny blog series. Towny is an app that exists to connect consumers with local businesses. It’s fairly new to Waco and is loaded with answers to the question, “Why local?” Through this blog series, the folks at Towny will be sharing the stories behind some of our high-quality, local products and helping you get to know some of our energetic local entrepreneurs. We hope you enjoy it! Supporting local business is a terrific way to support the Waco economy! Plus, it’s just fun to get to know your neighbors. For more posts in this blog series, click here: Towny Waco.– ALW)

by Beth Whittington

Normally, a gymnastics facility is just that, but at Flips Gymnastics in Waco, Texas, there’s (unintentionally!) much, much more behind the name. We’re hearing from Stephanie Mayfield, owner of Flips, to hear about the place where generation after generation are…learning to flip!

What’s the story behind Flips?

I lived outside of Dallas, in Duncanville, and did competitive gymnastics for seven years with coach Darlene Brooks at her gym, Duncanville Gymnastics Center. It was so different then – I actually didn’t start until I was 10 and did it until I was 17.

(Stephanie won three state championships, went to nationals, and was a regional competitor in Texas.)

I also worked for Darlene through high school. I got out of competitive gymnastics and did cheer my senior year and went on to the University of Texas at Arlington – majored in business. Duncanville wasn’t very far from Arlington so when I was 20, I worked for her again for my last two years of college at the gymnastic center that I grew up in.

Owners of Flips Gymnastics Stephanie and Dale Mayfield with Darlene Brooks

Darlene and her husband inherited some land and were going to be moving to West, Texas. For one of my projects at school, we did a business plan on starting a gym in Waco. (Stephanie laughs.) That was Flips!

So, I proposed it to Darlene’s husband and he said if you can find a gym, we’ll see. We found an existing gym in Hewitt. Darlene and her husband bought it out, and that became Flips.

I managed Flips starting in 1993. I coached and Darlene coached, we both were very involved with it. Ten years later, in 2003, we bought another existing facility in Waco, actually the location we are in now. In 2008, my husband and I bought the Brooks’ out and have owned Flips for the last 10 years and Darlene actually runs our office – she’s our office manager. (Plot twist! Didn’t see that one coming!) She is still there; we have not parted ways. My husband now coaches, we offer recreational gymnastics, and have been opened for 25 years!

How does Flips benefit kids?

It can be SO beneficial for kids at every level. You do not have to be that kid that thinks they’re going to be in the Olympics. It’s so beneficial for every other sport, you know?

I don’t know that we see the fruit of everything we build, but we have kids in all the time where their doctors say they need to be more coordinated, they need to have more body control – and everything these kids are doing in gymnastics– that’s exactly what they’re improving. They look like they’re swinging on a ring and dropping in a pit. But they’re learning to control their body and when they land, they’re not just flopping and hurting themselves. There are so many things they learn!

We have kids who started out at three and four and five years old. They go on to play soccer and when they trip on the soccer field, instead of hitting the ground on their face, they know to roll out. They have so much more body control in other sports. We’re just building a good foundation that leads to a lot of things. And then some kids learn to tumble and go on to do cheer or diving. But what we give them as young kids – strength, flexibility, and body awareness – you don’t get in other sports.

What did gymnastics teach you as a kid? 

I spent hours and hours in the gym so learning self-discipline, learning to prioritize my time, a work ethic I wouldn’t have gotten had I not gone deep into a competitive sport. It taught me a lot of independence, that an injury can change everything. If you have big goals and then have an injury, it deters your entire focus. I learned about failure, as well. I had a lot of success, but I had to learn to fail, too.

What do you offer at Flips?

There’s not the intensity here that I had growing up in gym. We want to provide a safe place; we want them smiling, happy. We don’t offer a pressure sport; we want them to learn skills, have fun with their friends, and have some value come out of it as well.

We start at two and a half-year-olds – our kids take gymnastics until age 12. We offer recreational gymnastics that has all the events: vault, bars, balance beams, floor, trampolines, safety foam pit, rings, all within a 15,000 square foot facility that is fully air-conditioned. (Stephanie wanted everyone to know that!!)

And then we offer a basic cheer/tumble class and a basic tumble class. We don’t offer competitive cheer or gymnastics but we do offer grooming for both of those. Both boys and girls come to Flips, beginner to advanced classes. It’s mostly a one hour a week recreational gymnastics class.

What’s one thing most people don’t know about Flips? 

I don’t think a lot of people know our story. Especially when they walk in, because, a lot of people that call the gym know Darlene, like, they know her name, but they have no idea that the backstory is that our roles are almost entirely flipped, except, in addition, she was my coach. I think that backstory makes the story of our gym quite different. A lot of people don’t even know she ever coached gymnastics, much less was my coach and owned the gym at one time.

What has the relationship been like?

She was my coach, which– any competitive gymnast has a very strong relationship with your coach because you spend so much time with them, weekly. So, she was very much a mother figure to me for many years and it evolved, more so as I got to be a little older, into a friendship. And we truly are best friends. Before we knew our spouses, we knew each other. We have a very long history. We have known each other for 37 years. We have always had a respect for one another that we could respect our work roles yet change over and have a personal friendship outside of work. It’s a pretty rare thing we’ve been able to do – work for each other and sell a business one to the other and then, still, we are best friends.

What do You two like to do together outside of work?

Stephanie Mayfield, on her wedding day, wearing coach + more, Darlene Brooks’ wedding gown

We don’t spend as much time as we used to, but (she laughs) we eat Mexican food every week together! We’re just good friends all the time, though. We’ve vacationed together…we were in each others’ weddings. I actually wore her wedding dress!

What does it mean to you when people shop local?

The mere fact that we do have a wonderful gym. We have many, many people who took at Flips when they were children and now bring their child. That’s SUCH a compliment. People tell their friends to bring their kids here and that is the BEST compliment I could get.

What do you love about Waco?

I love that it is a city but that it has such a small-town feel, I love that it’s Christ-centered. It’s a wonderful place to raise your kids. It’s such a great environment to raise your kids…I love that you turn on the TV and see people you know. You open up magazines and see people you know. It is big enough that people you meet, you may not know them, but you know the same people – you’re inner-connected.

Beth Whittington remembers sitting on the Waco suspension bridge as a girl, visiting family friends. Legs dangling off, watching the Fourth of July fireworks spark the sky. Been a Waco local for the better part of 19 years.  Gaps explainable by the awkwardly untrue term of “ex-missionary.” Beth thrives on: generating ideas + copywriting. Can’t wait to: visit South Africa. Favorite part of Waco: Bangkok Royale + the HOTHTC. Wants: everyone in Waco to get Towny because it’ll make life better for us all if we let it. 

Take your local support up a notch – pop in Towny + have a look around.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.




Seen the new Downtown District Banners?

By Wendy Gragg

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asked.

We at City Center Waco would answer, “more than you might think.”

If you’ve strolled or cruised through Downtown Waco recently, you may have seen new banners on light poles. There are 37 of them, and they have one of the following four designations: Austin Avenue District, Silo District, River District and Elm Avenue District.  Each banner also says Downtown Waco, A Cultural District.

Sure, Downtown Waco has had banners before, showing support for United Way and Baylor University or encouraging people to explore the city. But the new banners have altogether different purposes, which we hope will serve Downtown well in this era of increased tourism. We envision this happening in a couple of ways.

First, we want the banners to serve as a beacon of sorts. Downtown Waco is very spread out with pockets of activity separated by stretches of nothing. If you are new to the area and see that there are more banners farther down the street, they may pull you in that direction, toward shops and eateries, etc., in a district you might not have explored had you not seen the banner in the distance.

Second, they identify districts. Once again, because Downtown Waco is so spread out, sectioning it off helps us be able to talk about what is where, better than if we were just lumping everything under the umbrella of Downtown Waco. Also, as downtown development continues, we will likely find these districts take on their own personalities, shaped by the businesses that call those areas home.

You see this in larger cities all the time. Take San Francisco, for instance: the Union Square area is known for chain stores, the Mission neighborhood is known for murals and Bayview is up and coming with a lot of warehouses and new restaurants. Waco is not San Francisco but the basic concept remains the same. Name a place and you can more easily direct someone to it. Also, as the area grows, there are opportunities for collective marketing as businesses come together to market the neighborhood.

The Public Improvement District, which is funded through a voluntary “tax” paid by property owners in the very core of Downtown Waco, has literally bought into the idea of promoting districts as a way to encourage people to explore more of Downtown.  The banners are only one of several ways the PID is identifying the districts.  You may remember colorful, artistic maps that evolved from temporary signs to an art-and-wayfinding system on utility boxes.  These early versions are giving way to the third generation of downtown district wayfinding: artist-designed steel kiosks.  The unique district kiosks grew from the PID’s original concept to include a hand-drawn map and solar lights thanks to the championship and financial support of the CVB and Creative Waco.  Next to come will be building lights that carry the banners’ colors for each district into the evening hours and beyond.

Don’t miss the larger picture, though.  By creating these visual connections between locations in a district, drawing the eye to districts a few blocks away during both day and night, and providing maps that give greater context to Downtown Waco as a whole, the PID and its partners are doing more than just promoting the districts themselves.  They make all of Downtown Waco more attractive, as adventurous visitors join locals in braving those “between” places, venturing on foot along pathways that were previously untraveled.  The blossoming of areas along Mary and Jackson is in some ways the early fruits of activating more and more of downtown.  Perhaps the districts will have most fully done their job when they are no longer separated by inactive space and Downtown Waco feels full, active and connected.

City Center Waco (acting as staff to the Public Improvement District) invites you to an open meeting on Wednesday, August 15 from 4:00 PM-6:00 PM at City Center Waco, 801 Elm Avenue. The purpose of the meeting will be to gauge interest on the part of property owners within the Public Improvement District to participate in the second phase of the Downtown Lighting Project. Facebook event:

Wendy Gragg, Director of Communications for City Center Waco. City Center Waco helps drive development in the CITY CENTER, made up of Downtown Waco and the surrounding neighborhoods.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.

Full-time job. Full-time father. Full-time student.

By Madiha Kark with additional reporting by Neyra Bazaldua

Walk in to the Wells Fargo in downtown Waco and you’ll probably see him, his smile is quick to appear as he greets customers, his eyes are framed by black rectangular classes, and his round gentle face is marked with a short, maintained goatee.

Carlos Vera is the branch manager. In addition to his full-time job, he is also a full-time student and a full-time father to four children. He has an office in the back of the bank, but he is rarely there. Carlos is usually at the front of the bank greeting customers and helping them with whatever brings them in that day.

For Carlos, it’s been tough finding the balance between all these roles. “My motivation comes from many places and people. My wife and kids will always be my number one motivation, but I am most motivated when I have made a difference in someone’s life.” he says. When you hear his schedule it almost feels like he has more hours in the day than the rest of us.

Despite his myriad responsibilities, he carves out time to spend quality time with his kids. He also finds the time to participate in extracurricular activities such as, the Men of Color Success Initiative. The initiative is designed to address challenges for first generation college students, traditionally underrepresented groups, and students in need of academic and personal direction. The students are assigned a mentor to help them succeed.

At 35, Carlos is pursuing an Associate degree in Business Administration, he is not what is considered a traditional student, but he hasn’t let his age hold him back. Carlos’s mentor Dr. Ronald Hochstatter helped him apply for FAFSA and encouraged him to apply for scholarships through the MCC Foundation. “My first semester, I paid everything out of pocket, tuition, books, everything. I didn’t know anything about FAFSA.” The next semester he was able to get a refund, he couldn’t believe it.

With college prices in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, more families are looking for ways to spend less for quality education. Student loans are one of the most significant debts that Americans carry and at MCC, there are countless options to alleviate that burden, whether through scholarships, affordable classes or providing students with the resources that will help them academically and financially.

Through sheer determination, hard work, and encouragement from his mentor, Carlos applied for the Hoover Title III scholarship and received it. The scholarship will cover his tuition and books, leaving him a little less worried about finances. The experience to be in college has been rewarding in many ways for Carlos, though he feels left out or mature for most activities his fellow students prefer, he appreciates the comradery and willingness to help each other.

Carlos will graduate in fall 2019 and hopes to attend Texas Tech University through the University Center at MCC. MCC has opened many doors for Carlos and he hopes to do the same one day for other students.

Madiha Kark is a Marketing, Communications and Photography Specialist at McLennan Community College. She holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of North Texas. She loves to travel, cook, and read nonfiction books.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.


Career Spotlight: Assistant Police Chief Robert Lanning

(This post is the first of what we hope will be an on-going series profiling local folks who have taken advantage of the many higher education opportunities we have available in Waco to further their careers or pursue new opportunities.  We hope these profiles help spread the word about exciting educational and career opportunities we have here in the Waco area. Enjoy and be inspired! – ALW)

By Clinton Dennard

Have you ever thought you might like to go into police work? Assistant Police Chief Robert Lanning graduated from the Tarleton Waco Program with a Master of Criminal Justice degree in August of 2013.  In today’s career spotlight he shares some insights about a career in the police.

What is the career you are in now and what do you do?

I work in local law enforcement as an Assistant Chief of Police for the Waco Police Department.  For the last four years, I have supervised the Criminal Investigations Division, which includes all detectives and the Victim Services Unit.

Can you list some challenges and victories you have faced in this career?

The challenges have varied by position.  As a new patrol officer, I dealt with the same issues faced at some point by most officers:  Shift work, missed holidays, working under sometimes adverse conditions, and seeing people at their worst.  In my current position, I am frequently confronted with complex legal, policy, budget, and personnel decisions.  The offset to facing these difficulties is that I now have the authority to affect positive change, such as overseeing the development of our Peer Support Team, which assists employees in need.

What was the path you took to arrive here?

After graduating college with a degree in management, I initially worked in a family business; however, my interest was always in law enforcement.  In 1993, I began my career with the Waco Police Department as a patrol officer.  Over the last 24 years, I have worked as a detective, as a member of the SWAT team, and as a member of the USMS Fugitive Task Force.  In 2003, I began taking promotional tests and rising through the ranks to my current position.

What education did you need and how did you get it?

A minimum number of college hours is required by many departments, including the Waco Police Department.  Additionally, applicants for promotional tests receive bonus points for having a college degree and a minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required to apply for the position of assistant chief (having a graduate degree is preferred).  I attended Baylor University from 1980-1984 to obtain my BBA.

What is your favorite part of your job?

The most rewarding part of this job is helping people in need.  As an officer, you have many opportunities to assist others:  Giving directions, looking for lost children, enforcing the law, etc.  As a supervisor, I find fulfillment in teaching and mentoring new officers.

What advice would you give someone interested in your line of work?

First, invest some time and find out what the job that you’re interested in (local, state, federal) is really like—do your research, talk to people in that field, and do ride outs or internships.  Next, prepare yourself for being a good candidate by obtaining as much relevant training, experience, and education as possible.  Finally, all law enforcement and licensing agencies have standards related to drug/alcohol usage and criminal activity and you should make good decisions accordingly.

What pros and cons should they be aware of?

A career in law enforcement in extremely rewarding, but it is not a good fit for everyone.  Most law enforcement positions offer the satisfaction of helping others and good benefits/retirement plans, but it can also be dangerous and involve harsh working conditions.

What kind of things do you wish you had known when first beginning?

That policing was such a great job—I would have started this career immediately after college!

If you are interested in learning more about the Master of Criminal Justice program offered at Tarleton Waco, contact the main Tarleton Waco offices at 254-299-8322 to set up your advising appointment today!

This post was written by Clinton Dennard. Clinton is a self-proclaimed poker aficionado and 90’s music trivia savant. In his free time, you can find him on one of Waco’s spectacular bodies of water doing all the aquatic things. In his professional life, you will find him oscillating between lecturing and advising undergraduate Tarleton Waco students in an effort to make their dreams a reality. Further, you can find him recruiting for the Tarleton Waco programs throughout the Greater Waco community. On most evenings, he serves a Licensed Professional Counselor at Premier Neurofeedback and Counseling Services.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.