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 35 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 and Marketing Director

• 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. Since then, she has been involved in many managerial aspects of the business including: bookkeeping, Gym Bus, birthday parties, and Day Camp. She graduated with honors from the University of Florida in 1999 with degrees in marketing and economics. Upon graduation Jodi decided to refresh the marketing/branding of the business and decided to work full time as the first marketing director of the company. While originally this was intended to be a stepping stone for a corporate marketing career Jodi is now co-owner with her parents and the rest is history!

Jodi is also involved in many civic and volunteer organizations: the Gainesville, Newberry, and Jonesville Chambers of Commerce; She served on the board of Alachua County Emerging Leaders for 5 years (where she chaired the Champions for Charity Kickball tournament 3 years in a row); Leadership Gainesville class of 35; and March of Dimes-North Central Florida Board Member. She is also the co-founder of 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 and are currently on the boys competitive gymnastics team. In her free time she enjoys swimming, biking and running with her husband.

BRITTANY BENTON

Afterschool Department Leader

• Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
• Returning Back in 2021

Brittany Benton is returning to Sun Country as the After-School Department Leader, a position she previously held from 2014-2015. From 2016-2021, Brittany served as the Academy Director and Artistic Management Coordinator of Central Florida Ballet (CFB) and Central Florida Ballet Academy in Orlando, Florida. She was responsible for all aspects of the Academy management, and also was on the dance faculty, teaching all levels of ballet, tap, jazz, and contemporary. She also served as a resident choreographer and director for the CFB Studio Company. She was a director for CFB’s annual production of “The Nutcracker” at the Orange County Convention Center, and recently performed as “Mother Ginger” in the 2019 production.

Her son, Tanner, who is a dancer and began his early training with Dance Sun Country, trained on scholarship at CFB over the past 5 years, and will be attending the School of American Ballet in NYC this summer.

Brittany previously served on the faculty of Dance Sun Country from 2007-2016, as well as an assistant director, rehearsal coach, staff choreographer, and frequent performer for the non-pro t performing company, Sun Country Dance Theatre. She also holds certifications as a CRT and RPSGT.

Brittany is thrilled to be returning “home” to Gainesville and looks forward to being part of the Sun Country family once again!

JUDY BENTON

Team Leader
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.

DALLAS BROWN

Office Department Leader

• Hometown: Perry, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2021

I’m originally from Perry, Florida and I am a United States Air Force Veteran and Gator Alum (Go Gators!). I have a degree in Sports Management and learned my skills through my combined time working as an x-ray tech in the USAF and at Shands, and with the division of RecSports at the University of Florida.

LIZ BRESSLER

USAG Girls Department Leader

• Hometown: Hopkinsville, Kentucky
• With Sun Country Sports since 2020

LIz was a gymnast as a kid and competed up through Level 8. She has been coaching professionally for over 10 years and has coached a perfect 10.0 on vault. Liz strives to support and enact the Sun Country mission everyday. She has goals to grow with Sun Country and be a role model and leader.

LIz loves math and actually holds a bachelor of science in mathematics. In her spare time she enjoys photography. Fun fact: Liz attended the NCAA DIII Sweet 16!

KAREN BURDGE

Sunny’s Preschool Department Leader

• Hometown: Alachua, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2021

Lots of experience with children through many years of coaching gymnastics and teaching preschool.
Previously worked at Sun Country as a gymnastics team coach, tumbling team coach, Stay and Play instructor and bookkeeper.

TESSA COOK

SUMMER CAMP DEPARTMENT LEADER
GYM BUS DEPARTMENT LEADER
AFTERSCHOOL AND CAMP ASSISTANT

• Hometown: Lafayette
• With Sun Country Sports since 2019

Tessa comes to us with an undergraduate degree in Family Consumer Sciences with a concentration in Child Life – a field that helps children cope with hospitalization. She has extensive camp, volunteer and professional experiences working with children which has benefited her greatly in working at Sun Country. She holds her official DCF Staff Credential, CPR/First Aid and CCLS.

When Tessa isn’t working, she enjoys cooking, yoga, hiking, and taking her puppy Pepper to the do parks around Gainesville.

GRETCHEN DEBLEY

Tramp & Tumble Department Leader

• Hometown: Gaithersburg, Maryland
• With Sun Country Sports since 2019

Gretchen was a Level 8 USAG Gymnast and was a Trampoline + Tumbling National competitor in 1999. She has been coaching since 1995 at Hills Gymnastics – Levels: Pre-eam – Level 8 and was the Class Program Director and the Developmental Head Coach.

She enjoys volunteering at animal sanctuaries with her family. They love to explore all the nature preserves , zoos and sanctuaries every where they go! They also do craft shows as a family!

WILL DEBLEY

Xcel Team Department Leader

• Hometown: Washington, D.C.
• With Sun Country Sports since 2019

Will has been coaching gymnastics for over 16 years and previously instructed karate for 4 years. Will served as a police officer for 8 years and was the Maryland State Deputy of the year for community service.

He was the National Wushu Kung Fu Champion in 1995, 3 years Parkour Free Running instructor and is also a Cosplay Elvis Impersonator. We are so happy to have the man who wears many hats on our leadership team!

MICHELLE GALLO

Groups Department Leader
Retail Department Leader
Apprentice Coordinator

• 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.

MARKUS KIPPERS

Facilities Department Leader

• Hometown: Zachary, Louisiana
• With Sun Country Sports since 2018

Markus is a Chief in the United States Navy Reserve. He is our facilities Deptartment leaders, a bus driver, a lifeguard and a certified pool operator (CPO). He enjoys spending time with his family, boating, canoeing and fishing. His goal is to help Sun Country continue to be the best in Gainesville.

MIKE LANGIERI

Human Resources Department Leader
Meet Director
Associate Director

• 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.

ALLEN LENNOX

Ninja Zone Department Leader

• Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts
• With Sun Country Sports since 2021

Allen is from Boston, where he worked with the New England Patriots, New England Revolution and Harvard University in a variety of rolls. He has two Super Bowl rings with the Patriots and was able to travel with the Revolution to a championship game. In his spare time he likes to be outside with his daughter playing all kinds of games, sitting in the sandbox or playing sports video games Allen hopes to excel the Ninja program even further than it is now and help it grow. With a Bachelor’s of Science in Recreation and Tourism Management with a concentration in Sports Management and a minor in Business under his belt there is no doubt he is ready to train like a ninja!

Allen is also an avid CrossFitter, enjoys CentrFit workouts (Chris Hemingsworth’s company) and workouts that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have leaked out. He did the CrossFit Open once in 2019.

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 40 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 40 years, they have 2 sons and 4 grandchildren. Her kids and grandkids are the joy of her life!

CLAIRE RINI

Payroll Department Leader
Associate Director

• 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!

JANELLE TORNWALL

Rock Wall Department Leader

• Hometown: Keystone Heights, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2021

Janelle loves working and playing in the outdoors. She graduated from Appalachian State University with a B.S. in Recreation and Parks Management. She has worked in a variety of recreational settings with people of all ages including Blacksburg, Virginia at Crimper’s Climbing gym as their Program Director. Working there she enjoyed giving private instruction, coaching the youth climbing team, and working special events. In her spare time, JanelleI enjoy mountain biking, hiking with my family, yoga, and coaching her kiddos soccer team.

ALEXIS VELLIS

Birthday Party Department Leader

• Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
• With Sun Country Sports since 2020

Alexis was born and raised in Gainesville, Florida and was a Sun Country camper/student as a child. She trained as a dancer for 14 years and also has trained in karate, judo, fencing and basic gymnastics. Alexis graduated from Buchholz High School in 2017 and is currently working towards degrees in Dance and Youth, Family and Community Sciences at Sante Fe College. She is a certified Challenge Course Facilitator for both high and low ropes as well as an American Red Cross certified Waterfront Lifeguard.

GREG WELLER

Boys USAG Team Department Leader
Rainbow Gymnastics Coach
Millhopper Facility Department Leader

• 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.

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
  • Sports: We promote sports, fitness and healthy lifestyles
  • Community: We have fun and spread Sunny’s warmth around the community

What made us shine today? Tell us!
Give a SunBeam

Send a Sunbeam