The district announced at a meeting on Sep. 26 that the girls’ gymnastics program will likely be cut from Shawnee Mission and surrounding districts next year. The meeting, held in the South auditorium, was an open forum for SMSD gymnasts and parents to voice their opinions and ask questions regarding the discontinuation of the sport.
The decision to cut out the program will be voted on by the board of education in late December.
According to Shawnee Mission Athletic Director Richard Kramer, the sport isn’t a financial burden on the district, but SMSD, along will schools statewide, have seen a dwindling number of participants. Statistics from KSHAA stated that the total number of high school gymnasts in the state dropped from 249 in 2000 to 120 in 2015.
However, East gymnasts argue that the sport only requires a relatively small team, so it’s not necessary to have an abundance of student participation. Five people are allowed per event on a varsity team.
“[The district] is like ‘oh you don’t have a lot of people’ but you don’t need a lot of people [for gymnastics],” freshman gymnast Brooklyn Beck said. “They don’t really understand the sport and how even in the Olympics you only need five people on a team.”
Beck and fellow East gymnast, junior Jessie Stindt, said talk of cutting the sport has been in discussion for years but hasn’t become a serious possibility until now. On Sep. 22, an email was sent by SMSD administrators out inviting parents and gymnasts to the open forum meeting.
At the meeting, Kramer stated that SMSD administrators would be recommending to the board of education that the program be cut. Olathe School District held the same meeting at Olathe South, as they are following in SMSD’s footsteps and will likely not keep the program around for next fall.
“KSHSAA (Kansas State High School Activities Association) also conducted an open forum this summer regarding the state of the girls’ gymnastics program,” Kramer said in his email to parents and athletes. “The group realized that gymnastics was on thin ice but requested that KSHSAA at least keep the sport for this upcoming year. Shawnee Mission and Olathe support this train of thought.”
According to KSHSAA, the number of high schools with a gymnastics program dropped from 25 in 2000 to 13 last year. The state requires that there must be eight high schools with a gymnastics program in order to keep the sport going and for an official state tournament to be held at the end of the season. The 13 schools with the sport include the Shawnee Mission, Olathe, Lawrence, Newton and Emporia school districts.
“Slowly but surely, the surrounding area schools have dropped gymnastics,” Debbie Katzfey, East Athletic Director said. “Blue Valley has dropped gymnastics, Wichita has dropped gymnastics, Topeka has dropped gymnastics.”
Olathe and Shawnee Mission school districts make up nine of the 13 schools in Kansas that still have girls’ gymnastics. This means if the sport was eliminated in both districts, the remaining four schools wouldn’t meet the eight-school requirement, forcing girls gymnastics in Kansas to come to an end.
Another factor prompting the district to vote on the elimination of gymnastics is the district’s inability to secure coaches. KSHSAA statistics cited by SMSD showed that out of the 13 schools with a gymnastics program in Kansas, 11 indicated having trouble finding and securing qualified coaches. According to Katzfey, this has been difficult for East especially.
“Gymnastics is one of those sports that’s very technical in nature,” Katzfey said. “In order to coach it you have to know it, and not everybody grows up on the gymnastics mat. Whereas there’s a lot more people that grow up playing youth soccer or basketball or volleyball. But, gymnastics is so unique and it’s hard to find people that are that knowledgeable enough to coach it.”
The meeting on Sep. 26 addressed all of these topics, and brought the crowd of athletes to tears. Parents made emotional speeches begging the district not to cut the sport that meant so much to their daughters.
“It would be really sad because I’ve been doing gymnastics my whole life,” Stindt said. “I did club gymnastics, but this year I quit. So this year, high school gymnastics is my only way to do gymnastics.”
At the state tournament this Saturday, Oct. 22, the gymnastics branch of KSHSAA is planning on inviting former Kansas gymnastics alumni and coaches to make speeches about what gymnastics has done for them. This is in attempt to lighten the mood after hearing the news of the possible decision to cut the sport and it’s state tournament, which began in 1974.
Whether or not the decision becomes final, gymnasts in Shawnee Mission will be encouraged to get involved in another club or sport that they wouldn’t otherwise partake in. According to Katzfey, if it does get cut as a school sport, there is a good chance the school would look into making it into a club sport, meaning athletes could continue doing gymnastics.