Sioux Falls High School gymnasts fear the district will cut the sport

SIOUX FALLS, SD (Dakota News Now) – Fear is growing among high school and middle school gymnasts in Sioux Falls.

It comes after the Rapid City school board voted to do so last month stop the sport by referring to low numbers.

Now there are rumors that the Sioux Falls School District will follow suit and cut operations from its budget next year. The first draft of this budget will be presented at the working session on April 5.

A member of the local gymnastics community said the school board should prepare for an emergency and tumultuous crowd traveling from all over the state to attend the next Sioux Falls School Board meeting on Monday. The future of prep gymnastics is not on the agenda, but Rainers said members of the gymnastics community will talk about why the sport should be preserved in Sioux Falls public schools.

“If you want to see a group of people put together as fast as humanly possible, this is the group to do it,” said Alicia Reiners, owner of Wing Gymnastics Academy in Sioux Falls.

“The biggest concern for all of us, losing gymnastics outside of Sioux Falls, is if we lose Sioux Falls and we’ve already lost Rapid, at what point does the state decide to take it out of Sioux Falls? take all of us?”

On Wednesday, SDHSAA Executive Director Dan Swartos told Dakota News Now that dropping gymnastics as a nationally sanctioned sport “is not on our radar. I don’t see any possibility of that.” He also said high school gymnastics participation across the state has been “steady” over the past 10 years. Last year, 246 people participated, while ten years ago there were 231 people.

Meanwhile, the Sioux Falls School District told Dakota News Now on Monday that it would not allow an interview on the matter.

But SFSD Communications Director DiAnn Conrad made sure to provide DNN with district gymnastics participation statistics from the past decade, which show that 8.3 students per city high school competed in the sport this year, and that’s about 60 percentage has decreased over 10 years. ago, when this number was 20.3.

“Participation in gymnastics has steadily declined over the past several years,” Conrad wrote in an email to DNN. “Currently, SFSD has 4 middle schools and 6 high schools. A total of 44 MS and HS students compete in school gymnastics across the city, resulting in an average of 4.4 students per school, the lowest in 12-year history.”

Rainers doesn’t think those numbers are a fair estimate.

“Covid had something to do with it at the time,” Reiners said. “It is difficult to keep athletes in the gym. It’s not a sport where you can spend a lot of time and come back well.”

In fact, according to SFSD data sent to DNN, the number of participants on Sioux Falls high school gymnastics teams in 2020 was 63 for the 2019-20 school year.

That number dropped to 38 the following school year, the first since the pandemic. Vaccines were not available until that season. After the vaccinations, the number of participants increased to 57 in 2021-22, but to 44 this season.

Rainers, whose academy has 750 gymnasts from “just learning how to crawl” to 18 years old – is also an assistant gymnastics coach at Harrisburg High School. She has as much passion for local youth gymnastics as anyone and expects the level of interest in high school-sanctioned participation to rise even further.

“99 percent of the kids who walk through my door and join my competitive team go on to high school gymnastics,” Reiners said. “Only 1 percent of them try to get (college) scholarships.”

Those elite-level gymnasts, Rainers said, compete at the club level. That season partially coincides with the SDHSAA season. Some of her gymnasts compete in the club, then leave it for the high school season and return to the club after the high school season.

The reasoning behind the reduction of high school-sanctioned gymnastics, Rainers speculates, is that the club level will continue to be an accessible path for middle school and high school gymnasts who want to compete in the sport.

But Reiners and one of her high school gymnasts said eliminating the prep version of the sport would be a big loss, because the school-sanctioned version creates a team environment that can’t be replicated in the individual-oriented club scene.

Eva Knudtson finished her senior season at Lincoln High School. After harboring Olympic aspirations as a pre-teen gymnast, Knudtson realized she loved the sport but wouldn’t make it her life’s work to reach the highest level. So he chose to compete for Lincoln instead of the Wings or another club in town.

“For all the high schoolers that just joined my team, I would be very sad if they didn’t get to experience the five or six years of character development that I was able to go through,” Knudtson said.

In describing the essence of team gymnastics at the SDHSAA level compared to club competition, Knudtson said, “It fosters empathy — being able to go to a safe place with people you trust and people around you who are vulnerable.

“They are surrounded by a safe space where they can be who they are meant to be around each other while participating in a challenging, mentally stimulating team sport.”

Reiners said high school-sanctioned gymnastics, unlike the club level, also teaches kids how to deal with setbacks while also supporting others on their team. As a coach, the most important thing for him is to teach his athletes how to deal with disappointment.

“Still coming back and cheering on their teammates and being good about not having an event,” Reiners said, “it just means they have to work harder and not get mad at the people who beat them.

“That’s all real life. That’s what happens when you’re out in the workforce. You’ve got to put your best foot forward. You can’t be angry. You can’t get cocky. You’ve got to figure out how to make yourself better, to contribute more.”

Knudtson said all of those classes have made her a well-rounded person who balances school and gymnastics with her job as the Rainers’ coach at Wings.

“It’s very unique in its vulnerability and being able to put yourself out there and be judged for every little thing you do,” Knudtson said. “And then looking at that score and being okay with whatever it was and being able to go back to practice and fix it and make myself a better gymnast and a better person.”

Yes, club gymnastics can do this too. But saving a bunch of money in the school district’s budget by denying student-athletes like Knudtson the opportunity to compete more team-oriented would be a huge mistake, Reiners said.

“These kids who have put their heart and soul and all their time into their whole life usually end up where they want to be in their school,” Reiners said. “But they don’t want to be in the gym 20 hours a week and they want to live. But now they didn’t have that chance. They can’t continue to play the sports they love when they’re teenagers and in high school.”

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