Gymnasts speak out to keep the sport in Sioux Falls high schools
Backers believe the Sioux Falls School District is considering cutting gymnastics. School board will discuss the budget in April.
SIOUX FALLS – Gymnasts packed the Sioux Falls School Board chambers on Monday pleading for the future of their sport.
The athletes came out in numbers asking the Sioux Falls School District not to drop gymnastics as an official activity.
“Cutting gymnastics would be so much more than just cutting gymnastics,” said Sophie DeGroot, a seventh-grader at Edison Middle School and member of the Lincoln High School team. “It would be cutting opportunities for new friendships, newfound confidence and learning in the most supportive environment I’ve ever been in.
“I don’t know much about how budgeting and all that stuff works but I know there must be a better way to do this than taking a sport away from strong young women like us.”
The district has not forwarded a proposal to do that. The gymnasts, parents and coaches from Sioux Falls and other communities showed up on Monday to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. There was no agenda item dealing with the budget or gymnastics in particular. But backers believe the cuts are being considered and launched a social media campaign encouraging people to contact the school board and attend the meeting.
Rapid City recently made the decision to eliminate gymnastics and late last year the Sioux Falls School Board learned it likely needs to cut the budget by up to 4% over the coming years.
Gymnastics has been on the block before. The sport has also seen a gradual reduction in participation over the past ten years. It was cut in the middle schools after the 2019-20 school year and consolidations in coaching and facilities have been ongoing.
There were 44 girls participating in gymnastics in the four Sioux Falls public high schools this season, which includes middle school students.
Ten years ago, there were 89 students in gymnastics. That number hit a high of 133 in the 2015-16 season and a low of 38 two years ago.
Those numbers don’t tell the story, Les Coin told the board members.
Coin has been coaching gymnastics for 30 years, the last 23 years at Lincoln High School.
He said the numbers are something of a self-fulfilling prophecy as cuts and consolidations have put up barriers to participation.
For instance, he said, in addition to cutting the sport in the middle schools, the district also said they could no longer conduct summer camps. Then they combined coaches and facilities, making it all that much more difficult for girls to get to practice. During the pandemic, the numbers were capped, he said.
“Now the district wants to use those numbers that they are involved with over the past four years to get rid of the sport,” Coin said during the meeting. “Those numbers are a direct effect of what the district has made decisions about gymnastics. Not by the parents, not by the gymnasts and not by me.”
School board members typically do not respond during the public comment period.
Last week, district spokesperson DeeAnn Kondrad declined to discuss specifics of the proposed budget, which will be addressed for the first time by the school board at a working session on April 5.
“Any proposed programmatic changes would go through the annual budget process, which is currently underway,” Konrad said in a statement.
The board would consider any changes and give initial approval to the budget at their regular meeting on April 11. The final version will be approved in July.
Audra Rew, the head coach of gymnastics in Mitchell, attended the meeting as did coaches from other communities.
Rew led the social media campaign to bring attention to potential cuts in Sioux Falls because she believes it’s bad for the sport as a whole. She hopes that showing up and voicing support at the meeting will convince the district to take another look at the budget and consider other options rather than a full cut.
“It’s going to affect towns across the state,” she said in an interview after the meeting.
There’s more to high school gymnastics than numbers, said Ella Cornett, a senior at Roosevelt High School.
Cornett told the board that targeting high school gymnastics hurts lower income athletes who can’t afford club sports and girls who generally have fewer options for the supportive environment of a team sport.
“When we young girls were warned of our first high school heartbreak, we had never imagined it being caused by the decisions of our school district,” she said. “For so many, gymnastics was our first love and we can’t comprehend that a passion that has consumed our lives for so long is so easily denied by the leaders of our community.”