The girls gymnastics team, currently ranked fourth in the state, remains focused on their state competition Oct.21. The familiar threat of cutting the program approaches with the end of the season.
Last year during an open forum for gymnasts, it was announced that the SMSD would most likely cut the gymnastics program for the 2017-18 school year, mostly due to a lack students on the teams. However, following a couple meetings with the district’s coaches, it was decided in late October that the gymnastics program would be given the opportunity to increase its number of participants.
The goal for each school in the district is to have 10 girls total in the gymnastics program, half on varsity and half on junior varsity. East currently has six total gymnasts. The district will look at the growth and reevaluate the program at the end of this year.
“[East gymnasts] know that it’s a year-to-year thing, and [the district] reviews it every year,” gymnastics coach Jennifer Terflinger said. “As a whole, I think that [the girls] were so excited that they allowed it to come back that it’s made a positive effort for us.”
According to Terflinger, the sport has been at risk of being cut every year since she started working in the district 10 years ago. Since only 14 schools in Kansas have a gymnastics program, it can be difficult to find enough teams to compete against in meets.
Gymnastics is a sport that requires extensive technique, so it can also be hard to find qualified coaches who are trained to prevent injuries, Richard Kramer, the SMSD Director of Student Activities and Athletics, said. Still, Kramer said one of the primary reasons for continuing the program was the passion and participation of the gymnasts.
“We were devastated at first,” junior gymnast Emily Eadens said. “But then, we thought maybe there was some tiny chance. We had to do something.”
The team rallied together to keep the sport at East. They had meetings with Kramer about the gymnastics program and made T-shirts to increase awareness. Now that the program is secure for this season, Eadens feels like she has one less thing to worry about.
“At meets we’re not sitting around talking about ‘What if this is it? What if this is the last meet?’” Eadens said. “We’re spending more time talking about our goals for the meet. We’re not distracted by the ‘Oh no, this is it’ attitude.”
Sophomore Brooklyn Beck, who started gymnastics when she was in second grade, quit club gymnastics due to the time commitment, so she has relied on East’s program in order to compete.
“I was only a freshman last year, and I would have been very disappointed if I hadn’t gotten to continue it for the rest of [high school],” Beck said. “I didn’t want to go back to club, because I wanted to be able to participate in the high school atmosphere.”
Terflinger considers this one of the primary reasons the district has kept the gymnastics program despite the size and possible injuries. The girls in the program care about the sport and need gymnastics to remain at school in order to participate.
“Nobody wants to see an opportunity for kids taken away, no matter how small [it is],” Terflinger said. “Even if you’re [in] one club in your school, if you have a club of a few kids, they’re there because they’re passionate about that club or that activity.”
East gymnasts were in the middle of their season last year when they learned that their sport would likely not return, which added particular strain to the competition, according to Terflinger.
“It wasn’t so much while you were on the event, because then you’re pretty focused,” Eadens said. “It was more so in between events when we were just sitting as a team, reminiscing about all the different things we did. It was just really sad to think we wouldn’t have another year to make more memories.”
Even though the program is secure for now, the girls all know that there’s always a chance of it getting cut in the future. In order to increase their numbers, they hosted three clinics at Shawnee Mission West during the off-season. Students from middle and elementary schools with an interest in gymnastics came to learn a few skills and develop an idea of what the program is like at East. They’re hopeful that raising awareness about gymnastics through these clinics as well as fundraising will help keep the sport alive.
“[The risk of gymnastics being cut] makes me work harder in a way,” Beck said. “Every season might be the last one that I do.”