Southeast Missouri State University quietly decided to keep its women's gymnastics program last week after a consultant advised that the team was critical to meeting federal Title IX civil rights requirements on gender equity in athletics.
The recommendation of consultant Lamar Daniel of Atlanta -- who met with coaches and school officials on Dec. 9 -- helped save the program, gymnastics coach Patty Stotzheim said Monday.
A university ad hoc committee had looked at the possibility of shutting down gymnastics in favor of adding less expensive women's sports such as golf and junior varsity soccer. The idea sparked public outcry from the gymnastics coach, her players and fans in advance of the consultant's visit.
But the university gave its decision only the briefest mention last week on its athletics department Web site, four days after school officials met with Daniel.
School officials said Monday that Daniel is one of the nation's top experts on Title IX and previously worked for the federal Office of Civil Rights, which investigates gender equity complaints.
The 1972 federal law prohibits sex discrimination in education programs including athletics. Colleges have added women's sports, boosted budgets for such teams and hired more women coaches over the years in an effort to meet federal regulations and avoid costly lawsuits and investigations by the federal government.
Besides retaining gymnastics, the consultant advised school officials to recruit more women athletes for existing sports programs at Southeast. The university also will look at starting club sports for women such as rugby and field hockey.
Adding women's golf is a possibility. But it won't happen next year because of the university's tight budget, university president Dr. Ken Dobbins said Monday.
Team told Wednesday
The decision by university administrators to keep gymnastics was announced to the team on Wednesday, only three days after the Southeast Missourian newspaper published a front-page story in which Stotzheim and her gymnasts publicly worried the university might eliminate the program.
Southeast is the only Ohio Valley Conference school to field a gymnastics team.
Stotzheim said fan support for the team helped push Southeast officials to hire Daniel. "I think if we had been quiet, they probably would not have felt the need to hire a consultant. They probably would have just cut the program," she said.
But after the university spent much of this fall semester evaluating whether to keep the sport, Southeast officials didn't immediately trumpet the decision.
Athletics director Don Kaverman told the team on Wednesday -- two days before the start of Christmas break -- that the program would be retained, Stotzheim said. A day later, the university's ad hoc committee recommended keeping the gymnastics program.
Dobbins said Monday that he was still waiting on a written report from the consultant and likely would meet with the ad hoc committee in the spring semester. Dobbins said that's why he didn't make any formal announcement last week.
He said he didn't know in advance that the athletics department would announce the decision on its Web site.
Kaverman was out of town on Monday and couldn't be reached for comment.
"They really didn't want to make a big deal about it," Stotzheim said of university administrators.
But to Stotzheim and her gymnasts, the news last week during final exams week sparked relief and excitement. "It's like a whole new season," she said.
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