The Voltigierzirkel Part Two: Nuts and Bolts

In our previous article on Voltigierzirkel and its influence as a booster club in vaulting, we mentioned how successful it has been in general. Not only has it bolstered the sport in a way that has not been done before, but it has existed now for 25 years and continues to exist, following a model that has endured while other fledgling booster clubs have fizzled out. Continuing on our interview with first chairman Felix Bender, we will take a look at how Voltigierzirkel has excelled over the years, and its vision for the future.

As mentioned previously, Felix credits a large portion of their success to their complete independence. The activities of the club are delegated amongst its eight board members: “I am the first chairman and coordinate the tasks within the association, along with the support I receive from all other board members, in particular the 2nd chairman, Inge Lohr. Luise Wetzler is the secretary and responsible for the official documentation and correspondence with, for example, the registration court. Christina Plugge is our treasurer and is responsible for the finances. We have four assessors: Claudia Ehlert, Kathrin Rabe, Christoph Schaffa and Marie-Therese Stedry. They are involved in various areas: Aktueller Voltigierzirkel, our website, the vaulting conference, the promotional prizes…”

Aktueller Voltigierzirkel is a printed magazine produced by the club. “The Aktuelles Voltigierzirkel was at the time a unique option to get information about news in the vaulting world. Interestingly, in this age where anyone anywhere can see freestyles or interviews on YouTube with his or her smartphone, our magazine is still one of the main reasons for membership in the Voltigierzirkel.” A unique approach to disseminating current information about the sport, it was born out of the realization that there was no real flow of such information in the early days of the club. At the time, since the internet itself was in its infancy, the print medium was the best option. And it worked quite well, so much so that one can argue that it is what Voltigierzirkel did in its early years that made the sport as recognized as it is today.

Then, as mentioned previously, the club took advantage of the power of networking and getting the Voltigierzirkel name out there. “One of the highlights was co-organizing the 2000 World Championship in Mannheim. Then there was the establishment of the vaulting conference, which was initially in Bad Boll, and currently in Altleiningen. The club benefited greatly from the contacts and know-how of Ulrike Rieder, the former chairman and current honorary chairman. As an international judge, she had and still has a wealth of contacts and experience.”

The Voltigierzirkel phenomenon seems to be very unique. “To my knowledge”, says Felix, “a booster club like the Voltigierzirkel doesn’t exist anywhere else. In other countries there are organizations that are dedicated exclusively to vaulting; for example, in Switzerland, there’s the Schweizerische Voltige Verband, or in the USA the American Vaulting Association. But the orientation of these groups is different from that of the Voltigierzirkel.”

A large part of this is due to the fact that nobody has had the same lasting power as Voltigierzirkel. One might think that participation levels are a function of this, that a club cannot be successful if there simply aren’t enough vaulters to sustain it. “The more active trainers and officials work together, the more influential the booster club will be. I can’t name a specific minimum participation number, though. This does indeed depend on how many vaulters there are in a country.” He does, however, confirm that booster clubs work quite well at the local level, and mentions the AGPV (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Pfälzischer Voltigierer) in the Palatinate as an example.

Another issue is the body of knowledge required to get a booster club off of the ground in its early phases. “To set up a support association, one must be well informed about the legal background of such organizations. It takes many dedicated people who are willing to contribute time and money (and for many years) and diverse expert contacts in vaulting. My advice: building on an existing network is much more effective and promising,” states Felix.

So, we see that it can work. A booster club can be successful at any scale, whether it’s multi-national or local. But how can it be made successful? Felix suggests that maybe, rather than start from scratch, budding booster clubs can take a page from the Voltigierzirkel book. “Whether it makes sense to establish a fully independent organization in another country remains to be seen. Would it not make more sense to establish, for example, an English offshoot under the umbrella of an existing, successfully operating 25-year-old organization (namely the Voltigierzirkel)? To establish such a booster club and keep it successful and influential in the long-term is a tour de force. I have seen many ambitious projects come and go. So, my invitation to all visionaries: come and use the tried and tested structure of the Voltigierzirkel, so that we can work together to raise our sport up.

It seems that Voltigierzirkel has the momentum and the know-how to continue to bolster the sport of vaulting on the multi-national level, both through their own work and through helping others to start similar operations in their own countries. For nations with a limited vaulting presence and few resources at hand, this could be the golden opportunity to successfully lobby for the sport they love.

Margaret Swearingen

I am a former vaulter and lifetime rider/lover of all things horses located in Landrum, South Carolina, USA. Though it's been a while since I've vaulted, I stay as active as I can in this wonderful community and enjoy staying connected to the sport through writing. I am an accountant and I have two horses, Jake and Bob, and a German Shepherd named Gyra, and I am happiest when I'm outside in the fresh air with them and my other loved ones.