By Jordan J. Michael
GUILDERLAND –– Section 2 fielded 22 gymnastics teams in 1978. Now, Section 2 has only four teams –– Guilderland, Shaker, Saratoga, and Bethlehem.
Recently, Guilderland fought proposed budget cuts to remain a team. Last year, Bethlehem cut its program, but then the team funded itself at the last minute.
For the moment, Section 11 is thriving with 22 gymnastics teams, while Section 4 has only one team from Corning Painted Post. Last season, Section 4 dropped all of its teams.
“It was stressful, especially for the younger kids,” said Guilderland Head Coach Brenda Goodknight of battling the budget cuts while in the midst of competition and practice. The Dutch will have a team next season, but the school won’t pay for an assistant coach. “A lot of these girls want a chance to improve,” she said. “It wasn’t easy, but we pulled together and said our piece. We didn’t walk away.”
Marbry Gansle has coached Shaker for 30 years, and presides over the statewide operations for gymnastics. She said that the entire state has lost teams over the years due to problems with finding qualified coaches and equipment costs. Section 2 may have only four teams, but some other parts of the state have it even worse.
“It’s really tough to coach gymnastics because you have to know all of the tricks,” Gansle said. “You have to know what the hell you’re doing, and you have to be more than just a warm body.”
Some people make a living off of coaching gymnastics year-round for club teams, said Gansle. It can be hard for schools to find qualified coaches who will leave their full-time engagements to coach a school for four months. Guilderland was lucky because Goodknight competed for the Dutch in the late ’70s and early ’80s before becoming captain of her University at Albany team.
“Things may be coming to an end soon,” Gansle said of Section 2’s future with gymnastics. “My athletic director is skeptical because he doesn’t know who he could hire to replace me. I can retire at any time.”
Goodknight remembers when schools like Troy, Schenectady, Icahbod Crane, Scotia, and Niskayuna had gymnastics. “It isn’t the only sport being dropped,” she said. “Districts aren’t adding anything right now, so there’s probably no hope for more gymnastics teams. It was very upsetting to see Shenendehowa go, but I heard that they might come back into the mix.”
Gansle said that gymnastics equipment became too expensive for some schools’ budgets. For example, the floor exercise event went from being performed on wrestling mats, to carpets, and then to pricey spring floors that cost at least $12,000. Shaker built its own spring floor to save some money.
“Four-inch landing mats cost like $800 a pop,” said Gansle. “There’s all this equipment, and it just got to be too much of a cost to update all of it.”
Even though Guilderland won’t pay for the gymnastics team to have an assistant coach, Goodknight says the booster club will raise funds to keep the position intact. Steve Swider was the assistant coach this season.
The superintendent’s budget proposal for next year also cuts assistant coaching jobs for wrestling, boys’ and girls’ junior-varsity lacrosse, and boys’ and girls’ varsity soccer.
“We need an assistant for safety issues,” said Goodknight. “When we have four events running at the same time, we need that other set of hands and eyes. Some of these girls are really young, so I’m not about to ask them to practice on their own. I could use two assistants, actually.”
Goodknight said that the gymnastics booster club “does what it can do” to raise money for the program. The Dutch usually run a successful mini camp for elementary school kids during the season, but there was no mini camp this year because the boosters had raised enough money. “I did take several calls asking about the mini camp,” she said. “We’ll most likely be doing it again. The girls like to share their skills and learn something.”
The interest for gymnastics has always been strong in Guilderland. “I have to cut kids from the team every year,” Goodknight said. “There’s never a scramble to find girls; these girls are good! It’s a great opportunity for girls that are talented, but don’t want to compete for a club team.”
Many Guilderland gymnasts are multiple-sport athletes. Junior Hailey Marini, who won the all-around event at sectionals, plays field hockey. Senior twins, Claire and Jaclyn Levy, used to dive for the Guilderland-Voorheesville swimming team.
“I’m really happy to be able to have Hailey and the rest of the team back,” said Goodknight. “The Levys have been with me since they were in eighth grade, so I will miss them very much. They were great leaders that worked really hard.”
Earlier in the season, Mahopac, from Section 1, came upstate for an invitational at Shaker. The team had 35 girls and four coaches, so Goodknight knows there’s still evidence of strong gymnastics programs in New York State. It’s a tight community made up of people who share the same interest of pushing the limits.
“This sport is unique, and it’s really a bonding thing,” Goodknight said. “They like to flip upside down, and they can’t learn that overnight.”