By Sue Moore
Next Level Performance is a business based on the love of people, say the co-founders, Tim Hiller, Scott Gajos, and Josh Baird. “We love discovering the passion in people, their beliefs, and helping individuals get where they want to go, be it sports or in life,” they explain in unison.
Although their business is focused on training athletes for competition in all sports, their hope is to help young people discover who they are through the course of athletic principles. “It’s about teamwork, leadership, character building, and finding a person’s compass in life,” Hiller says. He sets the example, having been a standout quarterback for Western Michigan University’s (WMU) football team from 2005-2009. He then went on to coach football at Gull Lake High School for three years and now works at Stryker Corporation in the Human Resources department.
“There is a pressure to specialize in athletics,” Hiller relates. “Some believe that it will give you an advantage by concentrating on one sport, but I participated in three sports while in high school in Ohio and loved it. There are different types of conditioning required for each sport, but they complement each other. Specialization sometimes leads to a lot of overuse of certain body parts.”
“Parents want what is best for their kids, but sometimes it is hard to separate the emotional tie of winning at all costs. The ride home from a game is when mom and dad can have the greatest impact by telling how proud they are of their child’s effort and saying I love you, rather than picking apart the performance,” Hiller emphasizes.
“We have to let our kids learn their own lessons. Unlocking this is one of the key things we hope to accomplish, while allowing kids to go their own way. Sports is a powerful learning opportunity to know one’s self and take part in the journey through life,” Hiller says.
These lessons are at the heart of Next Level, according to Josh Baird, who also works at Stryker and has a son in Vicksburg Middle School who loves to compete in athletics. Baird is the business side of the organization, bringing the resources together to make it all happen. “I ask the parents who bring their kids to our training sessions, ‘what are you looking for with your child’s development?’ If the parents can reinforce the message in our training sessions, they can be a big part of the relationship building we are after.”
Then there is Scott Gajos who ties the training element all together as part of the team. “Kids just gravitate to Scott,” according to Baird. “He has the personality to connect with kids, he creates a fun environment, and is a strong competitor while creating that enthusiasm for team building. He is really loved by all the kids he works with.”
Gajos was a teammate of Hiller’s on the WMU football team and his roommate in college. He is the physical education teacher at Indian Lake School, and assistant coach of Vicksburg’s varsity football team.
Along with the co-founders of Next Level Performance, they have recruited staff over the last year of the company’s existence, which is the heart and soul of the organization according to Baird since all three have day jobs. Teaching every day at the Next Level complex in Portage, is Kirk Nakama, also a recruit from WMU’s football team, who runs the baseball instruction at the facility. Dan Krasinski, a certified trainer, strength and fitness coach, and nutrition specialist, focuses the athletes on fueling their bodies to achieve peak performance. Bob Vezeau who was the former head strength and conditioning coach WMU and is currently a professor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College helps out along with Joel DeVisser who was on WMU’s baseball team in the late 90s. Steve Laudicina, former WMU pitcher serves as pitching coach, Katie DeNooyer is one of Next Level’s volleyball coaches, along with Nohemi Castro and her sister Vasti Castro. They are assisted by Lena Oliver who played volleyball at WMU. Former Vicksburg High School and Siena Heights University soccer player Keenen Boulnemour works with soccer students, Shannon Moldovan is involved in marketing, and two of the wives, Amber Baird and Michelle Hiller contribute in many diverse ways.
“We want to develop contributing members of society and don’t want cost to be a barrier,” Baird says. They offer drop in sessions that range from $15 to $20 per session. “The ultimate driver of the business is helping young people get to where they want to go. It’s about the mental aspects of the game, just as much as the physical. Every session consists of on field training and classroom time focused on leadership and character development. Sports will end someday for everyone and we hope our kids will be prepared for that eventuality.”