Minneapolis gymnastics programs land pinpoint place to practice

  • Article by: JIM PAULSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 4, 2014 - 6:45 PM

Four Minneapolis high school gymnastics programs have carved a novel practice facility out of an old city school building.

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Aris Iwaszko, 12, left, and Elizabeth Webster, 12, both members of the South/Roosevelt team, worked out on a low beam. Now that the city schools have a facility, the goal has become to be competitive with the top programs in the area.

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Barefoot girls in leotards and practice shorts tumble and pirouette, balancing here, flipping there. It’s the organized chaos of a high school gymnastics practice, no different from any one of the 80 or so prep programs across the metro area.

With one big exception: This is a practice for teams in the Minneapolis City Conference. Three teams were using the space one day last week, housed in the first gymnastics-only facility to serve the city schools.

After years of making do with inadequate spaces and obsolete equipment, the four teams in the Minneapolis conference — Edison/Henry/North, South/Roosevelt, Washburn and Southwest — finally have a place of their own. The gymnasium at the old North Star Elementary building on 24th and Girard avenues in north Minneapolis had been sitting empty nearly two years since the departure of a charter school.

The equipment isn’t cutting edge, but it is up to date. There is a permanent spring floor, three balance beams (actually four, but parts for the fourth were lost during the move), two vaulting tables and two sets of uneven parallel bars.

“This is the biggest thing to happen to gymnastics in the city in my eight years coaching here,” said Edison/Henry/North coach Cassandra Guzman Meyering. “This just looks like a [gymnastics] club and that’s something we’ve never had before.”

There has been plenty of hand-wringing and concern about the fate of high school sports in the city. Gymnastics may not carry the high profile of basketball, but a step taken to encourage growth is seen as a positive sign.

“I’m a Minneapolis South kid,” South/Roosevelt coach Gabrielle Stickney said. “I was a gymnast here. It’s a great thing for the city teams.”

The site of the gym has long been coveted by city gymnastics coaches, who thought they had it secured eight years ago. But they lost the opportunity when the space was leased to a charter school. When it became available again two years ago, the coaches mobilized.

“I was skeptical,” said Guzman Meyering, who headed up the project of persuading the school board. “We had lost it before. I wasn’t going to believe it until we moved the equipment in.”

The advantages of having their own gym are greater than just a home base. Accessibility, safety and development are among the added benefits.

“We used to have to haul out our equipment and put it up and tear it back down before and after every practice,” Washburn coach Carrie Sartin said. “That’s not easy. When people looked at gymnastics, they saw work.”

Avoiding the prep work, Roosevelt sophomore Tiffany Bingham said, is a reason for celebration.

“Just being able to come to a gym and have everything ready makes it way more fun,” she said.

Sharing the facility allowed schools to cobble together the best of their equipment. A spring floor was added for the floor exercise and double-padded runways for vault, which has put less stress on the gymnasts’ legs.

“We have had far fewer shin splints and ankle injuries,” Sartin said. “It’s been so much better.”

The next step will be to reconfigure the gym to allow for meets the be held there. For the past two years, Minneapolis Conference teams have had to compete at St. Paul Como Park, Highland Park and Johnson, which have more readily available facilities. With a little redecorating, the gym will be able to host meets next year.

After that, the long-term goal is to be competitive with the top programs in the area.

“Our scores don’t reflect it now, but the improvement is there,” Guzman Meyering said. “In a few years, I can easily see improvements of 10, 15 points.”

For now, however, it’s all about having a place to call home.

“This is really a great thing for us,” Edison senior Mollie Hinderaker said. “It makes me wish I had more than one year left.”

 

Jim Paulsen • 612-673-7737

 

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