Southeast gymnasts fear program could tumble

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Southeast Missouri State University gymnastics coach Patty Stotzheim is concerned that her program might not be around much longer. So are her athletes.

Southeast athletic director Don Kaverman says it is premature to think that the university's gymnastics program will be dropped, as Stotzheim fears.

But Kaverman also does not rule out that happening, which does little to alleviate the anxiety of Stotzheim and her team.

"It concerns me," Stotzheim, in her fourth year at Southeast, said.

Stotzheim said she is worried because the university's ongoing gender equity committee, as part of its NCAA certification report, singled out the women's gymnastics program.

The committee recommended that the university examine "the structure of women's gymnastics to evaluate the participation pool, financial and coaching resources as it relates to the interests and abilities of the potential women student athletes" from the university's service region.

In addition, the committee recommended exploring the feasibility of adding women's golf and adding a women's junior varsity soccer program.

Kaverman said an ad hoc committee was recently appointed by Southeast president Ken Dobbins to delve into those issues.

A big part of gender equity, said Kaverman, is trying to identify and ultimately provide the intercollegiate sports that are of the most interest to Southeast students and prospective women student athletes from the university's service region.

"That was one of the reasons we added women's soccer," he said. "Now we're trying to see if there are any other sports out there."

Of Stotzheim's concerns that gymnastics might be dropped, Kaverman said, "It's a possibility. It's a possibility it could continue to exist as we currently sponsor it, we could continue to sponsor it in an altered form or the university could no longer continue to sponsor it.

"But I think it's premature to think that it's being dropped. It's one issue that is being looked at, but to jump to any conclusions that it's going to happen is premature."

Stotzheim worries that, since gymnastics is Southeast's only sport not affiliated with the Ohio Valley Conference, it is more likely to be dropped to make room for an OVC-sponsored women's sport like golf.

"That's an issue that will be discussed, but it's not a compelling issue," Kaverman said. "We've sponsored gymnastics all these years and it has never been an OVC sport."

Southeast has fielded a women's gymnastics team since 1976. And the Otahkians have been extremely successful over the years, winning two Division II national titles and finishing in the top five eight other times. The record has not been nearly as good since the university moved up to Division I, but the program has still been respectable.

Stotzheim is also concerned that, since rumors have been running rampant about the program possibly being dropped, it will hamper her recruiting efforts and the morale of the team, which opens its season in early January.

"It's very upsetting," said junior standout Ashley Godwin, the Otahkians' MVP last year. "We're trying to keep our heads up, but it's kind of hard."

Godwin said the Otahkians are intent on making Southeast's administration see that dropping gymnastics would be a big mistake.

"We have petition forms and today (Tuesday) was the first day we took them to classes," she said. Said junior Jacklyn Doebbler, one of the Otahkians' captains, along with senior Amy Cole, "Of course we're upset about it. Gymnastics has been very important to all of us and it would be terrible to have it dropped."

Kaverman said he understands the concerns of Stotzheim and her squad, which is why he hopes some kind of decision will be made by the end of the year.

"It is certainly not the goal of the committee or the university to keep these decisions in limbo for a while," he said. "I think recommendations by the committee would be channeled through me to the president by Thanksgiving, then the president will have time to decide what if any recommendations should be forwarded to the board of regents."

In the meantime, the Otahkians continue to practice daily not knowing where their program stands in the eyes of the university.

"It's going to be hard to compete, but we're just going to do the best we can, try to have a great season and show everybody that they would be making a big mistake by dropping the program," Doebbler said.

Added Stotzheim, "It's frustrating, because I haven't been given any reason why we've been singled out. I feel like gymnastics as a sport is sometimes misunderstood at this university and I feel like we're not given the same consideration as other sports here."

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