In an ironic twist of fate, the state that produced Olympic medalists Aly Raisman, Tim Daggett, and Peter Kormann is removing boys’ high school gymnastics from official competition.
Over the objections of area coaches, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association decided last week to end recognized competition among the handful of high schools that have boys’ gymnastics teams. The seven schools with all-boys’ gymnastics programs are Andover, Attleboro, Braintree, Burlington, Lowell, Newton North, and Newton South.
News of the MIAA’s move to eliminate boys’ gymnastics came as a crushing surprise to many area coaches, including Rich Ellis of Braintree High School.
“Needless to say, I am furious,” said Ellis. “It’s unbelievable.”
Ellis said he was “blindsided” by the MIAA’s decision.
“If I had a clue about this, months ago, I would have organized athletes, parents, coaches, and alumni,” said Ellis. “I have no clue why they did this. It doesn’t cost them a thing.”
MIAA spokesman Paul Wetzel said that the MIAA board of directors voted 10 to 2 to drop boys’ gymnastics as an official sport on Jan. 16.
“It’s not going to be a recognized sport,” said Wetzel.
The decision will be effective for the 2013-2014 school year; teams will finish out the current season, which ends with the state tournament in early February. It means that schools can continue offering gymnastics to boys as a club activity that they organize on their own, but any events they hold will not be sanctioned by the MIAA. Current examples of club sports include sailing, rowing, riflery, rugby, and fencing.
“There are some schools that do club gymnastics,” said Wetzel. “And they’re free to keep doing that.”
Many high-level gymnasts — such as Raisman, the Olympian from Needham — often train in private gyms.
Tom Giusti, athletic director at Newton North High School, said there are between 12 and 16 boys competing on his high school’s varsity squad. He said he plans to have a discussion with their coach about the MIAA’s decision and what it means.
One thing is for sure: He wants to maintain the boys’ gymnastics program at the high school.
“Since we have the facility and we have the equipment, we’d still like to continue to offer it at Newton North,” said Giusti.
Wetzel said that MIAA officials opted to drop boys’ gymnastics because the National Federation of State High School Associations (better known as NFHS) announced that it would no longer be writing national rules for boys’ gymnastics, according to Wetzel.
In April 2012 the NFHS made that “difficult” decision due to declining participation in boys’ gymnastics, according to NFHS spokeswoman Becky Oakes. “The number of states that sanction boys’ gymnastics had dropped down to a point where it was no longer practical that we were writing a national set of rules for the sport,” said Oakes. “We were down to three states that really recognize boys’ gymnastics.”
Across the country, 109 high schools reported having boys’ gymnastics squads during the 2011-2012 school year, according to NFHS records. Fewer than 100 of those schools were holding regular interscholastic competitions, according to Oakes.
In Massachusetts, 10 high schools offered boys’ gymnastics programs last year, and 221 male gymnasts participated on those teams, according to Wetzel. At the same time, participation in girls’ gymnastics was far higher, with 1,252 female gymnasts competing at 97 schools.
“There’s just not enough schools that have it,” said Wetzel. “It just isn’t there.”
The number of boys in Massachusetts competing in high school gymnastics has remained low for a decade. (In 2001-2002, eight high schools fielded boys’ gymnastics teams, and 205 boys participated on those squads.)
“It’s a girls’ sport,” said Wetzel, referring to the lopsided participation rates. “When was the last time you watched boys’ gymnastics? They don’t get on the cover of the Wheaties box. They don’t get the endorsements.”
But several area gymnastics coaches disagree, and view the situation much differently.
Burlington High School coach Rich Baczewski said he was shocked when he heard the news, and still hopes that MIAA officials will change their mind.
“I hope the MIAA will continue to recognize us,” said Baczewski, who coached Burlington to a state championship title last year. “Over the years it’s done a lot of good things for a lot of kids. I know our alumni would be disappointed.”
Burlington High School has offered boys’ gymnastics since 1971, and currently has 28 boys on the roster, according to Baczewski.
“I don’t believe it’s a cost issue,” Baczewski.
“We basically break even on our state tournament. I’m just concerned that if the MIAA drops us, it’s an open door to cut the program.”
Boys’ gymnastics also has a long and storied history in Braintree, where it has been a mainstay at the high school for more than half a century, according to Ellis. Braintree High has won more than 20 state championships and produced several star athletes, including Kormann, who won the bronze medal at the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal, and went on to coach the US men’s Olympic team.
Regardless of those past successes, Ellis, Baczewski, and other high school boys’ gymnastics coaches now find themselves scrambling to save their programs and figuring out what to do next.
“Gymnastics is such a historic sport,” said Ellis. “It’s been around for so long, and it doesn’t cost a thing, other than coaching. All the schools already have their own equipment.”
Jim DeProfio, the athletic director at Lowell High School, has 52 boys competing in gymnastics this winter. Right now they’re focusing on the season that’s still going, he said.
“I’m hoping there will be a chance for reconsideration and more discussions” with the MIAA, said DeProfio. “I’d love to see the sport stay.”Emily Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.