The era of high school gymnastics appears to be coming to an end at the Shawnee Mission and Olathe School Districts.
A letter has been sent to parents of gymnasts saying district officials are recommending to the school board that programs be discontinued after the 2016 season. It added that Olathe has made a similar recommendation.
The dwindling number of both athletes and high schools participating in girls’ gymnastics is largely to blame. Boys’ high school gymnastics went away in 1990 for similar reasons.
“It’s not just Kansas, it’s going on across the country,” said Cheryl Gleason of the Kansas State High School Activities Association. “The numbers have been going down.”
KSHSAA statistics cited by Shawnee Mission School District officials indicate the number of high schools across the state with girls’ teams dwindled from 25 in 2000 to 13 last year. The number of participants dropped from 249 to 120.
“I attribute it to club gymnastics in Kansas,” Gleason said. “Some of the club folks put kids in a situation where they have to choose between participating in the club or the high school.”
Other reasons for schools ending their participation in gymnastics were financial challenges; challenges with facilities and equipment, and difficulty securing coaches.
Shawnee Mission School District officials said in their letter that the state association held a forum on the future of girls’ gymnastics last summer and asked schools to continue their programs for the current school year.
“The group realized that gymnastics was on thin ice, but requested that KSHSAA at least keep the sport for this upcoming school year,” according to the letter sent parents. “Shawnee Mission and Olathe supported that train of thought.”
But within a few weeks of the start of the new school year, district officials decided to pull the plug. The recommendation to end the sport is not expected to come before the Shawnee Mission School Board at is regular meeting Monday.
A meeting has been scheduled for Monday, however, by Richard Kramer, director of student activities and athletics, to discuss the recommendation with parents at the SM South Auditorium at 6:15 p.m.
SM South also will be the site of the Kansas girls’ high school gymnastics tournament on Oct. 22, an annual event going back to 1974.
“We want to get alumni and coaches to attend,” Gleason said. “We’re trying some fun things and not have it a sad occasion.”
Still, gymnastics as a high school sport in Kansas overall may be close to extinction. Gleason said the boys tournament was ended when the number of schools declined to eight.
“The precedent has been set by our board,” she said. “If it gets to eight or fewer schools, we discontinue the tournament.”