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Gymnastics in Frazee: Cut the program or try to grow it?

Unless the gymnastics program at Frazee-Vergas School District can find an off-site location to be housed, the sport may be canceled in the near future.

In Superintendent Chuck Cheney’s recommendation to the board Tuesday morning, he said though it was a difficult recommendation, it was also a realistic one. He said the viability of the gymnastics program in Frazee has been in question for years, and he was asked to look into it.

He came back with a recommendation — which he urged the board to take or leave, depending on their feelings — to discontinue the sport mainly due to lack of space and lack of participation.

“This is not something I relish or enjoy doing,” he said of making the recommendation to cut an activity.

Amie Erickson, who has served as coach of gymnastics since 2008, said she is working on alternative locations and asked the board for more time before making any decisions. They gave her until August.

Average participation

While the number seven was used for participants for the 2012-13 years, Erickson said that number should have actually been 11. She said that two of her athletes were out with injuries and two others were out for poor grades.

She said that she contacted various schools throughout Minnesota to see what the average number of gymnastics participants was in each district. Of the 30 schools she received responses from, they averaged 2.1 gymnasts per 100 students at the high school. That would mean a 400-student high school averages eight participants.

“We’ve always had more than eight,” she said.

Through the elementary program, she said she averages about 30 young gymnasts in the summer and 60 in the winter through the community education program, which is second only to football in participation, she added.

Since this subject has been in talks for a couple months, Erickson said she has contacted a couple people about options for off-site locations for the gymnastics program but hasn’t gotten any commitments yet.

There have been questions about liability insurance from the district for an off-site facility.

“I know great efforts have been going on and I appreciate that,” Chenney said of Erickson’s work to find an alternative location.

Audience member Teri Osterman said that Frazee is “not a rich district” and that it’s not viable for kids to have to travel to a co-op district. She said the district isn’t paying much money for the sport, just giving up some space.

Board member Tammie Nunn said that as a parent, she knows that families will give up what they need to let their kids participate in sports though.

Recommendation to cut

In Cheney’s recommendation to the board, he looked at the history of the program in Frazee and the struggles it has had since the 1990s.

Coaching has been an issue, as the program went through six different coaches from 1998-2003.

In 2000-01, Perham and Frazee had a co-op arrangement, and the sport was housed in Frazee. Charlie Fleck was then hired for the Perham program, which subsequently split with Frazee to continue on their own. The Perham team has gone on to win multiple titles under his leadership.

Fleck served as the coach in Frazee from 2003-05 also, though the two towns had their own separate teams.

It was during that time period, Cheney noted, that the Frazee district posted school records for team scoring.

After another coach took over from 2006-07, Erickson then became coach in 2008 and has sbeen with the program since.

Besides coaches, the participation level has fluctuated slightly throughout the last eight years as well. The numbers have ranged from six in 2005-06 to 14 in 2010-11.

One of the most talked about issues with the gymnastics program Tuesday was the use of the “green gym” at the high school, where the equipment is housed.

During the gymnastics season, the equipment takes up space in the designated gymnasium, limiting access to it.

“When gyms are available, I think they’re going to be used,” Cheney said.

Board member Matt Bauer said that by opening up the gym to physical education classes, certainly more students would benefit from the space than when it is designated just for gymnastics.

Audience member Kyle Erickson pointed out that the district has gotten by for this many years with the gymnastics team using the green gym and wondered why there is a problem now.

Cheney noted in his recommendation that physical fitness advocates — whether it be from the state or local level — are discussing having more requirements for physical education in high school, or at least more electives.

“We may be a little short in phy ed,” he said.

Questions arise

Audience member Jason Ziegler said his daughter has been competing in the gymnastics program for two years and asked the board to not take the recommendation.

Given a few minutes to speak at the start of the meeting, Ziegler had multiple questions and points for the board, some of which were addressed and some which were not.

He questioned who specifically directed Cheney to look at the program, why the district didn’t hire Charlie Fleck (the Perham coach), how true the numbers of participants are from beginning to end of season, what physical education classes would be using the gymnasium that the gymnastics equipment is set up in, how come the wrestling program gets its own dedicated gym but yet there is supposedly limited space, and why would the winning record of the sport matter whether it should be cut when it doesn’t matter for other sports.

He also said that high school girls shouldn’t be made to decide between another sport or possibly joining gymnastics in another district simply because Frazee cuts the program.

He added that maybe more time should have been spent thinking up ways to make the program succeed rather than reasons to cut it.

Covering cost of program

During the 2005-06 budget reduction process, gymnastics was cut as a sport and danceline was instead used as a qualifying Minnesota State High School League activity.

Along with gymnastics, district funding to golf and cross country were also cut. Any expenses for the programs were taken care of by the booster clubs.

A few years later though, the district started paying the head coach salary again.

Tuesday morning, the board voted to resume the cost burden of the three sports beginning this fall, including gymnastics.

Two months for progress

Audience member Bruce Oelfke asked why the board was trying to push this decision through before the new superintendent and activities director started in July. Instead, he said, maybe they would have some new ideas to keep the program.

A motion was made to hold off on the vote for another month to give Erickson more time to look for an off-site location, but that motion, which passed, was then rescinded, and the vote was set for the Aug. 13 meeting instead. The reason for the two month period was to give incoming superintendent Terry Karger enough time to get acquainted with the situation and maybe make a recommendation as well.

Jim Nelson voted against holding off on making a decision though.

Before the August meeting, several pieces of information were requested to make a decision, including an off-site location and what the green gym would actually be used for if the gymnastics program wasn’t in there.

Board member Don Trieglaff said that gymnastics has been a part of his family’s life for years so he understands the desire to have the program. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t options either.

“It isn’t that if this doesn’t exist (in Frazee), it doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities,” he said, referencing the Minnesota Flyers program in Detroit Lakes.

Bauer suggested the board look at it another year down the road. He also said that board member Rich Ziegler, who wasn’t able to attend the school board meeting, made note that he was not in favor of cutting the program.

Activities Director Dave Trautman said that the district has already registered gymnastics through the MSHL for this coming year, because that is done in May.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.