Department Leaders

We love our Sun Country Department Leaders! This team of motivated individuals help to lead our staff daily as we stress our Sun Country mission, vision and core values. Feel free to reach out them individually if you have a specific question about one of their departments.

LINDA BENNETT

Owner

• Hometown: Miami, Florida
• With Sun Country since Day One (1987)

Linda was raised in Miami and moved to Gainesville with her husband to go to UF in the summer of 1971. They both loved the area and knew they would eventually return.

Linda and Phil Bennett moved their family back to Gainesville in the summer of 1986. It was then that Phil urged Linda to open a gym and offer something new to the area. With a degree in Early Childhood Education and 6 years of teaching pre-school and pre-school gymnastics experience, Linda took on the challenge.

With her family’s help, she opened Sun Country Sports in 1987. Linda has remained active and involved in running every aspect of the business while also being involved in community leadership. She was a member of the Leadership Gainesville Class of 36 and is currently a member of the Leadership Gainesville Alumni Association. She has mentored thousands of staff, business owners, and children in the 30 years that Sun Country has been opened. Her dedication to building healthy, strong babies has been unwavering; together with her staff and family, she has led Sun Country’s effort to raise over one hundred thousand dollars for the March of Dimes over the years.

Linda’s mission – and that of Sun Country’s – “is for every person to feel better about themselves when they walk out of our doors than they did when they walked in.”

PHIL BENNETT

Owner

• Hometown: Miami, Florida
• With Sun Country since Day One (1987)

Phil attended the University of Florida, receiving a B.S. degree in chemistry. He continued his education at Purdue University to receive a Ph.D in chemistry. Phil moved his family to Gainesville in 1986 when he got a job developing advanced batteries for General Electric (GE) and later Energizer. While working for Energizer, Phil often appeared as the Energizer Bunny during various community fundraisers.

In 1987 Phil challenged Linda, his wife, to open a gymnastics school. Phil continued to work as an industrial research and development chemist during the day but helped-out in the evenings and weekends while Linda and their children built Sun Country. When Energizer closed their Gainesville operation, Phil became an assistant chemistry professor at Santa Fe College.

Although not actively involved in the day-to-day operation of Sun Country, Phil is currently involved in negotiating major equipment purchases and strategic and financial planning for Sun Country. In addition, he oversees the operation of Sun Country’s facilities, serving as its building engineer and enjoys playing practical jokes on staff and family. He is an alumnus of Leadership Gainesville, active in the Florida Education Foundation, serves as a student mentor, and judges local, regional, and Florida state science/engineering fairs. He remains active in advanced rechargeable battery R&D by consulting for several start-up advanced battery companies and delivers lectures on rechargeable batteries domestically and internationally.

JODI BENNETT HUNT

Co-Owner
Director of Operations (West)
Marketing Department Leader

• Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
• With Sun Country since Day One (1987)

Jodi started competing in gymnastics when she was six years old. At 14, she began coaching at Sun Country and that same year started competitive cheerleading. Jodi also danced for 4 years while in high school and college. She graduated with honors from UF in 1999 with degrees in marketing and economics. Since then, she has been involved in many managerial aspects of the business: bookkeeping, Gym Bus, birthday parties, and Day Camp. Currently she manages operations at Sun Country West and leads the company’s marketing department.

Jodi is also involved in many civic and volunteer organizations: the Gainesville, Newberry, and Jonesville Chambers of Commerce; 5 year board member of Alachua County Emerging Leaders (where she chaired the Champions for Charity Kickball tournament); Leadership Gainesville class of 35; and March of Dimes-North Central Florida Board Member. She also helped start G3, Gainesville’s first public triathlon club. In 2011, Home Magazine named her one of Gainesville’s “40 under 40.”

Jodi has 2 young boys who both love coming to Sun Country. In her free time she enjoys swimming, biking and running with her husband.

JUDY BENTON

Dance Department Leader

• Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2007

Judy Benton currently serves as the Director of DANCE Sun Country, as well as the Artistic Director of the affiliated non-profit performing company, Sun Country Dance Theatre, which she founded in August 2008.

Ms. Benton’s vast experience as a dance instructor, choreographer, dance studio manager, arts administrator and Artistic Director spans over 40 years. She has studied in New York at the American Ballet Theatre school, Joffrey Ballet School, and Luigi’s Jazz Center, as well as attending countless workshops, dance intensives, and master classes with many greats of the dance world.

While her husband served in the Air Force, she was Director for the Youth Center Dance Program at Blytheville Air Force Base, Arkansas, dance instructor at Mississippi County Community College, and taught at numerous private studios in Arkansas and Panama City, Florida. She has taught community education dance classes at Santa Fe College, has choreographed for the Dance Theatre of Santa Fe, and been a guest teacher for the Florida Dance Association’s Florida Dance Festival on Tour, and for Floridance at the University of Florida.

Ms. Benton’s students continue to receive scholarships to study at some of our nation’s most prestigious dance programs and intensives, including American Ballet Theatre, Joffrey Ballet School, Orlando Ballet, Central Florida Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Next Generation Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and Alvin Ailey. Many of Ms. Benton’s former students have gone on to successful careers in the dance world, including professional dancers, teachers, choreographers, Broadway stage managers, stage directors, professional lighting designers, dance journalists, and arts administrators.

Ms. Benton is passionate about continuing to share her love and knowledge of dance with future generations of dancers and the youth of our community.

TOVA BLASBERG

Camp Sunny Department Leader
FUNrichment Afterschool Assistant

• Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2014

Tova graduated from UF with bachelor’s degree in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism. She has worked in recreational camp administration since 2011, serving as a Unit Leader at a camp in Wisconsin for 5 summers. It was at Camp Interlaken where she discovered her passion for creating a safe, silly, nurturing community where kids can be kids. Her greatest accomplishment has been facilitating the Interlaken counselor in training program in 2015 where she mentored her former campers to become staff members. She loves working for Sun Country, because of the family atmosphere.

Tova’s hobbies include directing and performing in local community theater, reading, camping, volunteering, and Disney (where she was a former cast member.)

LEXI LANGIERI

Swim Department Leader

• Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2008

Lexi took gymnastics at Sun Country as a child and has been a part of the family ever since. She began working here in 2008 and returned in 2017 to keep Sun Country in her life.

Lexi is a Certified Pool Operator and is trained to teach swimming to children with special needs. She has been teaching competitive swimming since 2010.

Lexi is in school studying Early Childhood Education. She is the proud mother to a beautiful little girl.

MARY CARLSON

Girls USA Gymnastics Team Department Leader

• Hometown: New Port Richey, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2012

Mary was a competitive gymnast for 14 years. She was a Level 9 Regional Qualifier – 2nd Place Beam and All-Around, and a Level 9 National Qualifier.

Mary graduated from UF with a Masters in Exercise Physiology. She loves everything sports & fitness and was the men’s varsity coxswain & team captain for the UF Crew Team. She is also a huge Tampa Bay Lightning fan!

ALISSA FREESE

Events Department Leader
Parties Department Leader
Groups Department Leader
Office Customer Service Team

• Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2012

Alissa has worked in many different departments within the company.  She started as a summer camp counselor and worked her way up to a manager, starting with Community Events.  She now spends a lot of time in the office making sure her programs are running smoothly, but she always makes sure she has time to work with the kids.

Alissa is representing Sun Country as part of the Leadership Gainesville Class 43.

She loves being able to go out into the community for festivals, fairs and fundraisers. It is a great way for her to be a part of the community and to help support local charities.  She’s lived in Gainesville for over 15 years. She may not be native to Gainesville, but it is her home.

MICHELLE GALLO

Bookkeeping and Retail Department Leader
Camp Assistant Manager
Apprentice Coordinator
Afterschool / Camp Driver

• Hometown: Tampa, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2004

Michelle started at Sun Country as an afterschool counselor and bus driver. She became the office manager for the Millhopper location in 2005 and the following year became the bookkeeper at the West location. She is also a field trip & special guest organizer for our Afterschool and Camp programs, and she directs the Apprentice programs for both.

Michelle has been married for over 20 years, has 3 children and one granddaughter.

Michelle has been a Girl Scout Leader for over 15 years. She also volunteers as a Girl Scout Leader trainer in the Gainesville area. She loves helping the community and watching youth become great leaders. She also loves camping, scrapbooking, reading and making crafts.

ANGELA HABECK

Sunny's Sports School Department Leader
Camp Sunny Jr. Department Leader
FUNrichment Afterschool Assistant

• Hometown: Tampa, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2015

Angela received her associate’s degree in Elementary Education and went on to get her Staff and Director’s credentials in Child Care. She loves teaching preschool and has been working in the child care field since 2008. Angela also co-founded the non-profit Yopp! Inc in 2008, whose mission is to create community through events that inspire creativity and the empowerment of youth.

In her down time, Angela stays busy with her two active daughters and enjoys spending time with her family outdoors. She is happy to have the opportunity at Sun Country to bring her passion of working with children and community together.

CAITLIN KEOHANE

FUNrichment After School Department Leader

• Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2017

Caitlin was a camp counselor at Camp Krystal Lake for 3 summers, where she was a sailing program leader, event planning intern, and part of the leadership council.

She loves the outdoors, cooking, animals, sailing, stand up paddle boarding, and kayaking.

MIKE LANGIERI

Human Resources Department Leader
Meet Director
Team Leader

• Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2010

Mikey worked in residential camp administration from 2002-2010, and has experience facilitating a range of instructional activities from horseback riding and over-night camping expeditions to sailing and rock climbing. He was Camp Sunny director from 2011-2015, and has worked in a number of Sun Country departments over the years.

He has attended three American Camp Association National Conferences, holds American Red Cross certifications in Lifeguarding, Professional CPR and First Aid, and is a USAG certified Meet Director.

Mikey enjoys anything in the outdoors including: riding, fishing, camping, and watersports. He also plays djembe and has performed with the University of Florida African Dance ensemble, Agbedidi.

BRIAN McMAHON

Millhopper Facilities Department Leader
Afterschool Driver

• Hometown: Williston, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2015

Brian worked for 29 years in the maintenance department of a school system in Michigan. He is the owner of a small engine repair shop in Bronson.

Brian loves to spend time with his family and outdoors.

DEBE MITCHELL

Preschool Gymnastics Department Leader

• Hometown: Miami, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 1989

Debe came to Gainesville to go to school in 1976 and never left. She started teaching gymnastic in 1979 and went to Brown’s Gymnastics in January 1982, which was then bought by Sun Country in 1989. She had planned on being either a Kindergarten or Elementary P.E. teacher but realized that what she was doing was the best of both worlds, and she is still teaching and loving preschool gymnastics 35 years later.

Debe is also an Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) certified Group Fitness Instructor who loves working out herself. She enjoys spending time with her grandchildren and just being at home on their five acres in the country.

Debe has been married for over 35 years, they have 2 sons and 4 grandchildren. Her kids and grandkids are the joy of her life!

CLAIRE RINI

Office Department Leader
Payroll Department Leader
Team Leader

• Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2010

Claire graduated from UF with a Bachelors degree in Recreation, Parks & Tourism. She was previously an intern for the Youth Development Division at the March of Dimes and continues to volunteer and fundraise for Sun Country’s March of Dimes’ Team. Claire represented Sun Country as a member of the Leadership Gainesville Class of 39 (Go Green!).

Claire loves all animals, organizing anything and everything, traveling to old and new places and spending time in the sun!

DAREN SMITH

Weekend Department Leader
Office Department Assistant

• Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2016

Daren graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. Before joining Sun Country Daren was an event supervisor at the Baughman Center at the University of Florida. She volunteers in her spare time with local community events and is a weekly volunteer at a local charter school.

In her spare she enjoys spending time with her family and dog, Boston. She also enjoys reading, traveling, talking to people, and anything Disney.

CHRIS STANGO

Rock Wall Department Leader

• Hometown: Miami, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2017

Chris has been climbing since 2013 and has climbed in gyms all over the country. He loves outdoor climbing, and his favorite place is Moab, UT and other areas around Albuquerque.

Chris is returning to complete his degree in Biology, and has years of experience in restaurant management.

GREG WELLER

Boys USAG Team Department Leader
Rainbow Gymnastics Coach

• Hometown: Bradenton, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2013

Greg was a collegiate gymnast at Temple University majoring in elementary education. He worked for Sun Country after college and returned to our team in 2013 after coaching in other locations around the state of Florida.

Greg serves as the USAG Florida Men’s State Chairman and Men’s Region 8 Elite Coordinator. He is a nationally rated judge and a member of the state and regional Elite Coaching Staff.

Greg also worked as a firefighter for four years and brings his EMT knowledge to our team.

TANAYA WILLIAMS

Rainbow Gymnastics Department Leader
AAU Team Department Leader
Gym Bus Department Leader
Trampoline and Tumbling Team Coach

• Hometown: Islamorada, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 1996

Tanaya grew up as a gymnast and dancer (her grandmother owned a dance studio and her father owned a gymnastics gym.) She attended FSU, FIU and UF studying Elementary Education, Business, and Exercise Physiology.

Tanaya holds numerous certifications in preschool, recreational, and competitive gymnastics through USA Gymnastics, the National Alliance for Youth Sports, and the Positive Coaching Alliance.  She is also a USA Gymnastics National Instructor and gets to travel the country presenting new information at conferences and teaching the preschool and recreational certification courses to new coaches! She is also a lifeguard and a CPR/First Aid Instructor and holds a 40 hour DCF Childcare certification. Tanaya represented Sun Country as part of the Leadership Gainesville Class 42.

Tanaya loves being involved in every fun activity we offer here at Sun Country.  She loves working with children and is passionate about her job here. She is married to her high-school sweetheart and they have one daughter (who you might have seen running around the gym as she is involved in multiple activities). Tanaya loves being active, being outdoors, traveling & spending time at home with her family.

Our Mission Statement

For every person to feel better about themselves when they walk out of our doors than they do when they walk in.

Our Vision

We strive to be the first choice in the area for active children, families and adults.

Our Core Values

  • Safety: We provide for the safety of our customers and ourselves
  • Caring: We care for our customers and coworkers like family
  • Support: We support our family through responsibility, accountability, and effective communication
  • Community: We have fun and spread Sunny’s warmth around the community

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