By Timothy Cox
Gymnastics will be dropped as a varsity sport at Coldwater High School based on a decision handed down this week, although the team could continue as a privately maintained club sport.
High school Principal Steve Keller was given sole discretion at the board's May 11 meeting by Superintendent Rich Seas and the school board to rule on the fate of the gymnastics program. At that meeting, more than two dozen people attended in support of the program, several of them speaking passionately in its defense. District officials then appeared to back down from prior concerns about transportation and scheduling.
But a May 11 memorandum from Keller to Athletic Director Eric Goodwin obtained by The Daily Standard calls for dropping the sport, in which 18 girls competed during the past winter season.
"I do not feel we can continue our program as a varsity sport," Keller wrote in the last line of the memo.
Keller said he would support efforts to continue the team as a club sport if the gymnasts could compete in Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) events. That plan, however, would require the team to find and pay for its own facilities outside the school gymnasium. Keller said in the memo he based his decision on the long distance travel and the scarcity of opponents for the Coldwater team to compete against. Those issues -- which coach Jane Diller and team members say have been around for a long time -- were compounded when Delphos St. John's and Columbus Grove chose to fold their programs for next season, taking away the Cavalier gymnasts' closest opponents.
Even though coaches, parents and the gymnasts told school officials at the May 11 meeting they are not worried about some extra travel, it apparently remains an issue for Keller.
"It does remain a concern for me that the nearest school that we can schedule is approximately 67 miles from our site with distances ranging up to 126 miles for other schools that have this program," Keller wrote in the memo.
The district has policies regarding travel distances on weeknights and weekends, but Seas recently said those could probably be changed if necessary.
Keller did not return a message left seeking comment early this morning, although Goodwin confirmed the decision has been made to drop the program. Goodwin said he has been "directed not to schedule any more gymnastics matches." The district already had signed contracts with two other opponents and inked a deal to bring in other schools for the local invitational. Goodwin had tentative deals and preliminary talks with several other districts.
Jane Diller, the team's coach since its beginning in 1974, declined comment this morning. She acknowledged she was told about Keller's plans, but appeared to be holding out some hope the issue is not finalized. She said a meeting was scheduled for late this morning with administrators to discuss the issue. Goodwin also indicated Keller's decision could be overturned by the superintendent.
When St. John's dropped its gymnastics program, leaving Coldwater as the lone Midwest Athletic Conference school with the gymnastics program, it triggered one of the criteria that allows the district to drop a sport. There are five criteria, any of which can prompt district officials to drop a program. They include the lack of a coach, no available facilities, too few athletes to compete in tournament events, the number of athletes drops below the established number for three straight years or the conference drops the sport.
The district's requirement for club sports call for adult leadership and supervision provided by the club and all expenses are the responsibility of the club. The athletic director still can review the club annually to see if it merits the district's endorsement for OHSAA competition.
Scrutiny of the gymnastics program first became public at the April 27 board of education meeting, where district officials talked about the need to look at the program's future regarding scheduling, transportation and financial issues.
But at the May 11 meeting where parents complained, school officials retreated from their previous statements. Parents said they would be willing to hold fund-raisers to help support the team financially and said they were not worried about additional travel. School officials said the issue was not about finances and blamed the newspaper for "sensationalizing" the issue.
A couple of parents of gymnastics team members this week said they believe district officials are not treating the program fairly and that saving a few bucks might be at the heart of the issue.
Goodwin this morning estimated the athletic department would save about $3,200 annually, which includes money paid out for transportation, hiring officials, tournament entry fees, coaches' clinics and memberships and other minor costs. Additionally, the district would save about $6,200 by not paying the salaries of the head coach and assistant coach.