By Amy Cole
If you haven't already heard, the Southeast Missouri State University gymnastics program is in danger of being dropped.
Chances are that you don't really understand why this is happening. Some assume our problems started because of the same budget cuts that have affected everyone on this campus. Some may think it is fair to consider dropping an athletic program because many other departments of the university have been combined, dropped or restructured in order to accommodate the budget cuts. Naturally, the athletic department should face the same process.
The fact is that it is entirely untrue that the gymnastics program is facing extinction because of budget cuts. We are in danger because the Southeast athletic department is attempting to comply with Title IX requirements by possibly restructuring women's sports.
The sports opportunities and resources offered to women at Southeast, in comparison to those offered to men, are considerably less. One way for the university to show that, despite the inequities, it is in compliance with Title IX is to demonstrate that the sports offered are sufficiently serving the interests of the women in the university's service region.
Why has the gymnastics program been singled out for evaluation? It has been mentioned that it is possible that the addition of a women's junior varsity soccer program and a women's golf program would better serve the interests of the women in our service region. Adding these programs would mean something else would have to go in order to free up the resources required to initiate them.
This is where gymnastics comes in. The university has a large gymnastics team and expensive equipment. If the university dropped gymnastics, it would have sufficient funds to start up two new, cheaper programs.
In my opinion, this doesn't make much sense. I think the women's gymnastics team serves the interests of women in the service region. Currently, we have 18 athletes on our team. Six of us are from Missouri. Eleven of us are from the Midwest. If you look at other women's programs at Southeast, you find similar or lower percentages of Missouri athletes.
We serve the interests of young local gymnasts as well. Each year we offer classes through our gym for many girls and boys interested in gymnastics. We offer Mom's Day Out where we have an all-day activity in the gym so local moms can do their holiday shopping. We spend much of that day teaching the kids gymnastics, and they love it.
Every winter during our season, we sponsor a meet for gymnastics clubs in the area. More than a hundred young gymnasts get an opportunity to compete in our facility, interact with us and watch our meet that is going on the same weekend.
I hope I have made the point that the Southeast gymnastics program serves the interests not only of collegiate athletes in this region, but of the up-and-coming athletes as well.
Perhaps our sport is overlooked because it is not an Ohio Valley Conference sport, and we do not contribute to Southeast's success in the OVC. We do, however, consistently send individuals to NCAA regional competition, and we compete against prestigious teams such as Missouri, Florida and Michigan.
Perhaps our sport is overlooked because it is not prevalent in high school athletics as soccer and golf are. Participation in competitive gymnastics is most often associated with private clubs. Thousands of young gymnasts across the country are involved in gymnastics. Southeast Missouri is no exception to this. There are gymnastics clubs here in Cape Girardeau and Jackson and several more scattered throughout the smaller towns of Southeast Missouri. There are more than 50 clubs in St. Louis and Kansas City and throughout the rest of the state.
To drop the gymnastics program at Southeast would do a terrible disservice to the 16 athletes who would be returning to the program next year, to the few who would be entering the program as freshmen and to the many younger athletes who would have an opportunity to participate in collegiate gymnastics in years to come.
Gymnastics is a sport that requires much dedication, sacrifice and hard work. Most of us currently on the team have probably been involved with gymnastics since before the first grade and have been practicing around 20 hours a week year around since we were 9 or 10 years old. Our goal never was to go to the Olympics. The dream of most young gymnasts is to get a college scholarship or just to compete in college so we can be a member of a dynamic team that travels to fun and interesting places to compete in a sport that we love so much and have been working at for so many years.
To have this scholarship or this opportunity torn away after just a few years would be extremely disheartening to my teammates who are to return next season. Their goals and lives would be disrupted. Most of them would have to leave this university.
The removal of this program also would contribute to the already rapid disappearance of collegiate gymnastics programs across the country. There are already too few opportunities for young athletes in this sport. Remember the thousands of young gymnasts across the country? They aren't working that hard to excel at the sport just to have it all end abruptly when they finish high school. If anything, we should be working to increase the number of college gymnastics programs in the United States.
What can you do to help as we face evaluation? Act quickly. An outside consultant is being brought in because none of our administrators want to be entirely responsible for this decision. The consultant will make a recommendation during finals week. One thing you can do is talk about it. If there is a buzz about this issue throughout the university, it will show that there is obvious concern about the status of the program. This will reach those in power, and they will see that this program is valuable to the university.
Also, you can support us by coming out to our intrasquad meet at 7 o'clock tonight [Dec. 5[ at Parker Gym. A very large crowd would draw valuable media attention.
Call the gym and sign up your kids for Mom's Day Out on Dec. 14.
Any way we can demonstrate our value to this university will help us tremendously. The Southeast gymnastics program deserves to be supported as much as any other Southeast athletic program.
Amy Cole is a senior at Southeast Missouri State University and co-captain of the gymnastics team.