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Club teams are choice; HS gymnastics fights to exist
• Kiersten Clowes, Jr., Palmer Ridge - Finished 12th in the uneven parallel bars at state last year. Only athlete in the Springs area to advance past the preliminary round last year at state.
• Hannah Brown, Sr., Pine Creek - 2009 Gazette Athlete of the Year in gymnastics. Took 20th all-around, third on the floor, and sixth on uneven bars that year.
• Chelsi Dixon, So., Rampart - The sophomore is an up-and-coming talent who will lead her 14-deep team in the new league.
• Jennica Gaza, Sr., Cañon City - All-around state qualifier last year in 4A.
• Cañon City returns five past 4A state qualifiers this season.
• One of Rampart’s top gymnasts of last year, Lauryn Bille, has decided not to do high school gymnastics this year. Her personal best on the floor was 9.225.
• Senior Cassandra Whirl will be the first four-year gymnast out of Palmer Ridge.
• Rampart goes from six gymnasts last year to 14 this year, despite dwindling participation in high school gymnastics.
For Colorado Springs high school gymnastics, the newly planted exercise is simple.
Try to survive.
High school gymnastics in Colorado Springs is getting closer to becoming a thing of the past. And that was yesterday’s news.
In fact, many schools have dropped their programs, leaving Pine Creek, Rampart, Palmer Ridge and Cañon City as the only area schools to still offer the program.
Rampart coach Brandye Conley says the problem is a hard one to fix.
“A lot of things are hindering the sport right now, but the biggest factor is schools don’t have enough girls participating,” Conley said. “And a lot of girls who participate in club gymnastics don’t come out for high school (gymnastics) because their coaches don’t encourage them to come out.”
Since 2009 Colorado high school gymnastic participants has dropped from 652 kids to 570. However Luke Barfield, a manager of the Colorado Aerials, says the club team has actually grown in participation in the past year.
The discrepancy between high school and club is simple, Barfield said.
“High school gymnastics doesn’t have a place to practice as much as a competitive club gymnastics gym would have, time-wise,” Barfield said. “And they don’t have as much equipment as a club would have. So it gives us an advantage.”
What’s strange is that even though high school gymnastics are going by the wayside, high schools in the area are actually improving their gymnastics programs. Five years ago, Conley admits that many high schools used wrestling mats instead of gymnastic mats — and didn’t have near the impressive amount of equipment club sports had.
But now for instance, Rampart practices at the Colorado Aerials gym. Same equipment and all.
But still, most girls who are a part of a club team won’t bother with high school. Kiersten Wang, Colorado Spring’s top gymnast over the past couple of years, never competed for Palmer Ridge. Instead, she stuck to competing for the Colorado Aerials, and now competes for the Florida Gators.
In other sports, the transition from club to high school sports seems effortless. But it isn’t the same case for gymnastics, Barfield said.
“If you are trying to do both high school and club gymnastics in the winter it is going to be tough on your body,” Barfield said. “And honestly, if you want to focus on hard and tough gymnastics, you will want to stay on club.”
Conley said, the reality is that recruiters and scouts usually won’t even bother looking at high school gymnasts.
“Scouting is not done through high school gymnastics — that is done really, purely through the club side,” Conley said. “If girls want to continue their gymnastics career outside of high school, the club route is where they need to be.”
But the show goes on.
So this season Rampart, Pine Creek and Palmer Ridge will join the Centennial and Continental league. The three teams will join Cherry Creek, Overland, Heritage, Ponderosa and Rock Canyon.
Even though Colorado Springs high school gymnastics’ future appears to be thinning faster than your grandpa’s head of hair, gymnastics coaches remain hopeful school gymnastics can last.
Some coaches like Conley admit, however, nothing is set in stone.
“I would be hopeful that gymnastics is here in five years,” Conley said. “But you just never know.”