Get high: Scale the heights at Rocky Top

Cold winter weekends are killers. The kids are climbing the walls, whining about being bored, and driving me crazy. Just as I’m about to pull my hair out and run into the street screaming, my neighbor Charlotte calls to invite my guys to go with their family to Rocky Top.
 Strains of banjo music run through my head, a song about Tennessee.
“What’s Rocky Top?” I ask innocently.
“It’s just the best thing in the world for William (her over active 13-year-old and best friend to my younger son),” Charlotte says. “There’s no place like it for him to use up all that energy.”
Intrigued, I went with them to find out for myself about this pearl disguised in a concrete block building on industrial Allied Street.
“It’s my personal sandbox,” says owner Bill Thompson. “It’s a place to play.”
Rocky Top Fitness Center has been around since 1994 when former owner Doug Simon bought a racquetball club here and turned one of the courts into a climbing room. Thompson bought the place last summer and now offers racquetball, wallyball, a weight room, and, the part the kids love best, the climbing room.
Three sides of this room are covered with uneven stone-grey plaster and dotted with protrusions of various sizes where climbers grab a toe- or handhold. Ropes are fastened into the floor along the wall, and kids young and old, wearing hip harnesses and climbing shoes, make their best effort at scaling the walls while a friend belays from below.
 There’s no glitz here, no pumped up prima donnas prancing around the place. There isn’t even a sauna. What there is is a low-key venue for kids as young as five and as old as they like to have fun, get in shape, and work off some of that excess liveliness that comes from being confined to the house by cold or snow.
 “It’s like a family here,” says Alan Jones whose sons, nine-year-old Tyler and almost-six-year-old Coley, have been climbing the walls at Rocky Top five days a week for over a year. “Bill is like an uncle to my kids. They beg me to come here.”
Now, thanks to Charlotte, my kids are begging me to climb at Rocky Top, too.

Rocky Top is open seven days a week: 3-9pm Monday-Friday, 11am-7pm Saturday, and 1-7pm on Sunday. 1729 Allied St. 984-1626. www.rockytopgym.com.

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