Stuck the dismount: Gymnastics to return in SMSD for 2017-18 school year

Shawnee Mission North senior Elia Robertson, who is graduating a year early, would have been able to compete next year after Shawnee Mission School District officials decided to keep the sport around for at least one more year.
Shawnee Mission North senior Elia Robertson, who is graduating a year early, would have been able to compete next year after Shawnee Mission School District officials decided to keep the sport around for at least one more year.

The gymnastics community in the Shawnee Mission School District received some much welcome news over the weekend that sport would be continued for the 2017-18 school year.

In a 176-word letter addressed to gymnasts and their parents obtained by the Shawnee Mission Post, the status of gymnastics will be reevaluated after next season.

SMSD Assistant Superintendent Richard Atha and Director of Student Services Richard Kramer wrote “it will be the responsibility of the stakeholders to rebuild our programs by meeting benchmarks established by the district and coaches.”

One of those benchmarks is participation numbers.

Marlo Martin, whose daughter Kara is a freshman at Shawnee Mission Northwest, appeared in front of the school board on a number of occasions to help convince members the sport needs to be kept.

“We feel like the district listened to the parents, coaches and students to come to this decision,” Martin said. “I think the parents, who came to the initial meeting in September, put up some good points and I believe the district officials listened and took them into consideration and saw how much support there was for this sport.”

Martin doesn’t know what the benchmarks are, but she believes the sport will grow to the district’s satisfaction.

The number of girls who can compete in a meet at the varsity level is set in stone: five girls with three of the scores counting.

But it’s the junior varsity levels and middle schools that can help convince the district the sport needs to stick around.

On Saturday, the gymnastics programs around the district held a clinic for elementary and middle school students.

It was a first step toward raising awareness at the younger levels that there are teams in high school.

There’s a misconception that clubs would take precedent over a high school team because the training is better, but the high school coaches, including Ann Heinlein, who coaches the Shawnee Mission North and SM West teams, have extensive training and backgrounds as coaches and gymnasts themselves.

Plus, the club competition season doesn’t start until after the high school season is completed.

The higher-caliber gymnasts who have collegiate or Olympic aspirations won’t necessarily compete for their high school

“In reaching out to local gyms, we’re finding out they’re huge in pushing these girls to do high school,” Heinlein said. “If they know these girls aren’t headed for a college scholarship or they know these girls aren’t headed to the Olympics, they’re pushing them to do high school and be involved in that high school culture, which is beautiful.”

Martin said Kara would never have met some of her friends who are upperclassmen if she didn’t participate in high school gymnastics.

Kara has also made friends from other teams that she probably would never have met either.

“They need to be involved in that high school culture and this is a way for them to do it,” Heinlein said.

The gymnastics culture is an interesting one because the girls don’t cheer for their team only, they want their competition to succeed as well.

Heinlein thinks Atha would prefer all five schools to have separate teams instead of SM North and SM West practicing together and SM East and SM South practicing together, but it may not be totally feasible.

New equipment would be needed because they’ve been co-oped for so long. Some of the schools have outdated or the quality of the equipment has been lost. For instance, SM North would need a new competition floor.

Regardless of what the future holds, Heinlein was very appreciative of the decision.

“I just want to thank Dr. Atha and Mr. Kramer for coming to the decision they did,” Heinlein said.