Gymnastics will return next year but its future remains uncertain

By Jonas Lord, Staff Writer

On Dec. 8, 2021, hundreds of LHS and Free State students skipped their classes to protest proposed cuts to the gymnastics program. These cuts, which were recommended a week earlier by district administration, sparked strong reactions from students, staff and parents.

The school board rejected this recommended cut to the gymnastics program and its position in the fall sports itinerary was confirmed at an April 25, 2022 meeting. Their response came about after an investigation into falling participation numbers in female-oriented sports.

The results of the investigation would allow the district to cut the gymnastics program while still maintaining a good Title IX standing. However, Title IX, a landmark law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools funded by the federal government, was met by a few tenths of a percent. Attorney Greg Goheen was hired by the district to investigate the issue, stating that cutting the gymnastics program could also exacerbate the participation problem.

“While I think it is likely that COVID has had an impact,” board Vice President Shannon Kimball said. “I am personally surprised by the size of the disparities. I would like to hear from the coaches about what factors are affecting participation.” 

Even though this victory is big for the gymnastics program, there is still some worry among students about its future.

“I worry that eventually they will cut it and think that they made the wrong decision to keep it,” sophomore Charlee Burghart said. “Which is just nerve-racking to have it as one of your sports and then know that it could get cut possibly.”

After the initial controversy subsided, the LHS gymnastics team realized that a lack of knowledge about gymnastics may have contributed to the initial decision to cut the program.

“We learned that gymnastics is a very unappreciated sport,” gymnastics coach Daneika Vann said. “Considering the skill it takes, it should not be. Anyone can bounce a basketball or run a football pass. Maybe not well, but not just anyone can throw their bodies in the air and land safely.”

Vann and her gymnasts also learned to cherish every moment in the gymnastics program because there’s always a possibility that it could be taken away.

“We will not take any practice or competition for granted,” she said. “Every moment counts!”

Junior Sophia Zogry, who was heavily involved in the initial protests against the school board, believes that cutting the gymnastics could set a massive precedent in school board budget policy.

“I do worry that they will try and come back and eradicate the program again just after this next group of gymnasts graduate because if they feel like there aren’t that many strong voices on the team anymore, they can get away with cutting it,” she said. “I’m afraid for other programs as well because if they feel like they can cut a program like gymnastics, they probably feel like they can cut anything.” 

When confronted with a possible proposed cut, sophomore Ivori Jones is optimistic that she and her fellow gymnasts could come together and plan another grassroots campaign. 

“I think I would do the same thing that we’ve been doing with the protesting and stuff just because we’ve been pretty successful as a program,” she said. “And I think that this coming year we’re going to be even more successful so we would just do the same thing.”

Zogry believes that this comradery and focus on teamwork allowed the team to bring together students from many different backgrounds. 

“It’s an extremely diverse group of people,” she said. “We don’t just have girls on the team. We have non-binary people, we have people who are in the LGBTQ community, we have people who are in military families, we have a lot of people of color on the team, we have a lot of low income people on the team, and it’s just a really great outlet for a lot of different types of people.”