Gymnastics supporters fighting to save the sport in Sioux Falls high schools

Parents and clubs have organized to rally support as the school board struggles with budget constrictions.

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Eric Van Beek talks to the Sioux Falls School Board about the potential elimination of high school gymnastics on Tuesday, April 11, 2023.
Patrick Lalley / Sioux Falls Live

SIOUX FALLS — High school gymnastics in Sioux Falls isn’t dead yet.

Parents and coaches have been meeting to formulate a plan to save the sport as the Sioux Falls School District prepares the budget for the next fiscal year. The district’s tentative budget does not support gymnastics, a casualty of the constriction of funding related to the phasing out of pandemic relief money.

District officials point to a steady decline in the number of girls participating in the sport over the past decade. Those numbers no longer justify the investment in staff and equipment given the belt-tightening required across the district, they say.

The supporters have gotten more vocal — and organized — since the possibility of the cuts emerged. They surveyed families with kids enrolled in the area gymnastics academies and are committed to finding a solution before the school board makes a final decision on the budget in July.

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Bobbie Tibbetts speaks to the Sioux Falls School Board about the potential elimination of high school gymnastics on April 11, 2023.
Patrick Lalley / Sioux Falls Live

“Our ask is time,” one of the parents, Bobbie Tibbetts, said in an interview with Sioux Falls Live. “Our ask is to allow us reasonable time to drive participation numbers and involvement. Even if it’s a funding issue, there’s not a dollar amount that I’m afraid of for this group to fundraise.”


The question is whether the school board is willing to do that.

It’s not impossible, said Kate Serenbetz, president of the school board.

Serenbetz said she and other board members have been reading all the emails and communication regarding the gymnastics cuts.

She’s sympathetic to the athletes and families, having been involved in several contentious issues as a board member and a parent, such as the decision to close Longfellow Elementary where her children attended.

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Kate Serenbetz, president of the Sioux Falls School Board.
Contributed / Sioux Falls School District

“I can understand being passionate about something,” she said in an interview. “I can understand the emotions tied to a program.”

That’s all going to be part of the conversation over the coming weeks.

“I'm only one person so I can't speak for the other board members,” she said. “I'm never going to say never. It’s an uphill battle, probably, at this point but I'm always willing to listen to feedback and solutions that people might have.”

The district presented the budget to the School Board for the first time Wednesday.

The debate is not new.


Gymnastics has been a focus of conversation for a few years. That included a plan that would have moved all practices to a local gymnastics club, financed by the district. But that fell apart last year primarily because of push back over scheduling and transportation.

Just 44 girls from seventh to 12th grades participated in gymnastics this school year.

The parents feel like the participation decline is a self-fulfilling prophecy because the district cut the middle school programs, consolidated coaching and facilities, eliminated busing and didn’t follow through with equipment for the new Jefferson High School.

Bobbie Tibbetts
Contributed / Imagery Photography

“Yes, they are declining but you put every barrier in front of them to have a robust program,” said Tibbetts, whose daughter was planning to compete next year in the high school program as a seventh grader.

The parents group hopes they can demonstrate there is more potential for growth than the district realizes. They conducted a survey of families with children younger than seventh grade enrolled in area gymnastics clubs.

Of the 191 families that responded, 84% said their child was interested in competing in high school gymnastics at some point. About half those families live in the Sioux Falls district.

Harrisburg and Brandon Valley high schools, which cover portions of the city of Sioux Falls currently have gymnastics programs.

Sioux Falls School Board is facing the hard decision of whether to continue the sport in high schools.

The results of the survey, and an outline of potential steps to save the sport was sent to school board members ahead of their budget discussion on Tuesday, April 11.


Supporters hope that the plan demonstrates a renewed commitment that will sway the board’s decision and buy them more time to build the participation numbers. That includes increased coordination between the three main club organizations in the city to develop young gymnasts with camps for students outside the established fee structure.

“We are here to help,” said Eric Van Beek, one of the parents involved. “We can raise funds. We can help drive participation. Whatever numbers they have to meet, we will help meet.”

Money is at the center of the conversation.

The parents regularly point to money that was budgeted, but never spent, to buy equipment when Jefferson High School opened in 2021.

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Dr. Jamie Nold serves as assistant superintendent of the Sioux Falls School District.
Contributed / Sioux Falls School District

Jamie Nold, assistant superintendent of administrative services, said that equipment wasn’t purchased because the district believed they’d found a solution in contracting with a private gym to provide the space.

That’s the plan that fell through last year.

“We went through that whole process and shortly before the season started there was a change of mind, which is fine, and we maintained it at the building level and continued through,” Nold said in an interview. “If we would have gone to a club we wouldn't have needed much of the equipment.”

The money went back into the budget for other capital needs, he said.


Staffing has also been an issue.

The district is down to two head coaches but the parents group says they’ve identified interested people to round out the staff for all four high schools. Those names were included in the materials forwarded to the board.

“I appreciate that they've come forward with people who can coach and want to coach,” Serenbetz said. “But they have to pass background checks and they have to have the qualifications that we’re looking for to meet our standards for a coach.”

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Supporters of high school gymnastics turned out to oppose elimination of the sport at the Sioux Falls School Board meeting on April 11, 2023.
Patrick Lalley / Sioux Falls Live

Tibbetts said what’s not being considered in the participation is that things are changing at the club level.

For example, Wings Gymnastics Academy started a development program in 2016 that is growing the pool of potential high school athletes. Wings and Power and Grace Gymnastics have agreed to partner with the district to do camps for kids who otherwise couldn’t afford club programs, she said.

“They are just starting to see the benefits, which is why the numbers this next fall are going to spike,” Tibbetts said.

That’s not to deny that there has been a gap between the high school and club programs.

“It has been a little bit of a struggle,” she said. “There’s a narrative where it’s club or high school. It doesn’t have to be that way. Athletes are seeing that. Most gymnasts that are in club will look at high school as an avenue. Most of them who don’t have high school just quit the sport. Because it’s one of those that if you’re not competitive but you want to continue the sport you’re going to look at high school, and most do.”


However heartfelt and sincere the commitment, the strategy supplied by the parents is just that. It’s a plan. Whether they will get the time to turn passion into results is up to the school board.

Backers believe the Sioux Falls School District is considering cutting gymnastics. School board will discuss the budget in April.

The board will consider adopting the tentative budget at their regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 24.

Final adoption is scheduled for July 10.

The reason for the time gap is that the district needs to move ahead with hiring decisions and make offers to prospective teachers and staff. They have to wait for final adoption because of the timing and process of state funding through the state legislature.

In the meantime, there is always a chance that things can change. That discussion will continue through public testimony, email and the district’s website, Serenbetz said.

“We will continue to use our methods of communication,” she said. “We read every one.”

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Patrick Lalley is the engagement editor and reporter for Sioux Falls Live. Reach him at
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