Lalley: Gymnastics struggle in Sioux Falls is the lesson of sports

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

Sophie DeGroot at school board 032723.jpg
Sophie DeGroot, a seventh-grader at Edison Middle School, tells the Sioux Falls School Board about her experiences as a member of the Lincoln High School gymnastics team on Monday, March 27, 2023.
Patrick Lalley / Sioux Falls Live

SIOUX FALLS — If you’ve watched the popular series “Ted Lasso” you've heard the phrase “football is life.”

If not, it’s the mantra of the character Dani Rojas, a Mexican-born star playing for the fictional AFC Richmond Greyhounds in the English Premier League.

Don’t worry. We’re not here to talk about soccer, or television.

But the idea of Dani Rojas, the jubilant footballer, that what matters most in life is the thing you have the most passion for, is one that came to mind recently.

That’s probably because we’re in the heart of the third wonderful season of the show. But it’s also related to another sport I’ve been spending some time with recently.


That is high school girls gymnastics.

It’s not that I’m a big gymnastics fan. Rather, it’s because the sport is facing possible elimination as a high school activity in the Sioux Falls School District.

There’s nothing official yet, but it’s not trending well for gymnastics.

Why? A number of reasons are at play.

Rapid City recently dropped gymnastics which has prompted concern about its future in state's largest district, where numbers are also down.

  • One, there’s no denying the decreasing participation. Supporters point to a series of cuts and restrictions that have put up barriers to girls who want to participate.
  • Two, there is a parallel world of club-based gymnastics that draws a number of top prospects away from the school-sanctioned version.
  • Three, there are a growing number of sanctioned sports options for girls, including soccer, softball and cheer and dance. Wrestling is also a growing sport for girls at the high school level.

Tie all that up with potential budget cuts in the Sioux Falls district and there’s a growing sense that gymnastics is going away.
That doesn’t make it right, not for the girls, the families and the coaches, many of whom have devoted their lives to building the sport.

For them, it feels like a personal, individual rejection.

The emotions, the visceral connection to this sport they love so much and that is tied to their identities, was displayed in full at the Sioux Falls School Board meeting on Monday, March 26.


There were more than 100 gymnastics supporters in the room. They came, not for a discussion or debate of the issue because there wasn’t one on the agenda. They came for the allotted 15 minutes of time allowed to address the board on non-agenda items. Consider it a preemptive strike.

A series of athletes came to the podium to share their stories of camaraderie and confidence-building support from teammates and coaches.

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

There were powerful, eloquent and emotional pleas by incredibly impressive young women.

Will it matter?

That’s another question altogether. School district officials are putting the final touches on the budget that will be presented to the board on April 5. That’s when we’ll know whether gymnastics is truly on the block or not.

Then the real debate begins.

Envy not the school board. They have to look at the data and make a decision.

If they do decide to cut gymnastics, they are going to have to listen to those strong, confident young women a couple more times.


They are going to have to look them in the eyes and say, “no.”

The money, less than $100,000 in the annual budget, but at least twice that in needed equipment upgrades, will go into the other activities.

Because the soccer and softball players, the golfers and wrestlers and cheer squads need money too.

They are also confident and strong with a compelling story and competitive spirit.

That’s what you hope for from sport, that it’s something more than the sport itself.

Dani Rojas says football is life.

Life is also full of hard choices, disappointment and loss.

That … is sports.


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