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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — The Colfax Board of Education has approved a cooperative girls’ gymnastics program with Bloomer on a two-year trial basis.
The Bloomer school board already unanimously approved the gymnastics cooperative in February, and if the Colfax school board approves the cooperative, the application must be submitted to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association (WIAA) by April 1, said Shanna McMullin, an alternative education teacher in the Bloomer school district, head gymnastics coach and the owner of the Phoenix Gymnastics Club in Bloomer, at the Colfax Board of Education’s March 21 meeting.
A group of about a dozen young girls, along with their parents and grandparents, also attended the Colfax school board meeting.
McMullin said she took over the gymnastics club in 2011 from Penni Asplund, purchased the gymnastics club in 2014 and moved to a new facility in 2019.
According to the Phoenix Gymnastics Club website, McMullin is a full-time teacher of at-risk youth at Bloomer High School and has a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling. She has more than 30 years of experience in gymnastics and first competed in club gymnastics in Minnesota. During her years in college, she coached gymnastics for the YMCA.
After the Olympics, every little girl wants to become a gymnast, McMullin noted during her presentation to the Colfax school board.
The gymnastics program at Phoenix has been highly successful. Teams from the club have competed in 17 state championships, and the teams consistently place second in state competition, she said.
Six of the girls in gymnastics at Phoenix now are from Colfax, and the remainder are from Bloomer, McMullin said.
Gymnasts from Phoenix also have competed at the national level, she said.
So why should Colfax add gymnastics to the athletics offered at Colfax High School? McMullin asked.
Adding gymnastics provides another opportunity for Colfax students, she said.
In larger cities, many times, the gymnasts want to stay with the club and continue competing for the club, but in small towns, they like to compete for their school, McMullin said.
Practices are held three times per week for two and a half to three hours, she said.
Among gymnasts, 95 percent of them are members of National Honor Society in high school, McMullin said.
There will be junior varsity and varsity. Five gymnasts will compete per level per event, and the top four will count for the team score. Gymnasts can compete in individual or team events, she said.
Practices will be held at Phoenix Gymnastics Club on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., and strength and conditioning training is done on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the individual schools, McMullin said.
Ideally, Colfax would have a coach, and then the coach can bring the girls to practice. Gymnastics is the same season as wrestling, she said.
Colfax has been in a cooperative wrestling program with Bloomer for a number of years.
Competitions are on Tuesdays, Thursdays or weekends. The gymnasts must compete at a minimum of four events each year and a maximum of 14 events. The average for Phoenix Gymnastics is 10 meets each year, McMullin said.
Gymnasts usually are “one sport” athletes, so gymnastics would not be pulling girls from other sports. Basketball players tend to be taller, for example, and gymnasts are smaller, so there is little cross-over between gymnastics and basketball, she said.
Each school must bring its own springboard to meets, and uniforms (leotards) are required as well, McMullin said.
One competition leotard for every gymnast is not necessary, because not all of the gymnasts compete at every gymnastics meet, she noted.
In addition, the WIAA requires the purchase of floor music. Music cannot be pirated from the Internet, McMullin said.
Jodi Kiekhaefer, school board member, asked if Colfax owns any of the gymnastics equipment.
William C. Yingst Jr., district administrator, said Colfax does not have any of the equipment, although there may be a balance beam stored somewhere.
Kiekhaefer wondered what had happened to the gymnastics equipment owned by the school district.
The Colfax Messenger also recalls gymnastics equipment owned by the Colfax school district, including a springboard. One unit in physical education class was gymnastics, with gymnastics equipment set up all around the Martin Anderson gymnasium, so that students rotated from station to station to work on their skills using various equipment, such as the balance beam, the vault, parallel bars, still rings suspended from the ceiling, tumbling mats and the trampoline. A long, thick rope also hung from the ceiling, and some students were so good at climbing hand over hand, they could make it all the way to the ceiling.
If the WIAA approves the gymnastics cooperative, the first practice will be held in November of 2022, and the first competition will be in late November. State competition would be in April of 2023, McMullin said.
Is a supervisor required for strength and conditioning training? asked Andrew De Moe, school board member.
Bloomer has a strength and conditioning coach, McMullin said, adding that she does not know how Colfax handles the weight room.
The gymnasts are welcome in Bloomer for strength and conditioning, but if Colfax had a coach, that would be good, she said.
According to information included in the Colfax school board packet, the cost of the gymnastics program for one school year is a little over $21,000, and includes the cost of a spring board, uniforms, warmups, music, facility rental, transportation, coach, meets and officials.
Since Colfax is expected to have fewer participants than Bloomer, the cost for Colfax is estimated at around $5,000.
Colfax school board members asked the parents who attended the meeting for their thoughts about forming a cooperative gymnastics program.
One parent said they do gymnastics now with the help and support of the other families.
The parents have managed among themselves for the past six years to get their children to the gym, one parent said.
The parents could certainly figure out the logistics of making sure their children are at the Phoenix gym or at Colfax for strength and conditioning training, they said.
Another parent from Colfax said they always “find a way to make it work,” and that it would be no more difficult if it were for a school program rather than the program through the Phoenix Gymnastics Club.
Colfax has three to five wrestlers going in a van to Bloomer for practice, so there would be room for the girls to go for gymnastics, Yingst said.
Many of the gymnasts are beginning in the program, but are any of them in high school? asked Ken Bjork, school board member.
One gymnast is a freshman now, and another will be a freshman next year, McMullin said.
School board members also asked the young gymnasts for their thoughts on forming a cooperative program.
One girl said she hoped the Colfax school board would approve the program, because if the program was not approved, they would miss their gymnastics friends so much if they could not compete in high school together, and it would not seem right if they could not compete together.
The young lady’s words struck a chord with the Colfax school board members.
Bloomer approved the cooperative gymnastics program in February, and if Colfax approves the cooperative, then there’s a short window to get the application to the WIAA by April 1, said Ken Neuburg, who chaired the Board of Education meeting in the absence of school board president Todd Kragness.
There are some details to work out yet, but Mr. Yingst is good at working out details, he said.
Cooperatives are approved for two years by the WIAA, so the gymnastics cooperative can be re-evaluated in two years, Yingst said.
The expected cost for the gymnastics program is a small fraction of the entire school district budget, and there would be no harm in a two-year trial of the program, Bjork noted.
As a small school, Colfax should try to offer as many opportunities as possible for the students, he said.
The Colfax Board of Education unanimously approved trying the gymnastics cooperative with Bloomer on a two-year trial basis.
The school board’s decision made the gymnasts at the meeting very happy young ladies.
Bjork confessed that two of the gymnasts are his granddaughters — and reminded them before they left the meeting that the gymnastics program is for a two-year trial and “might not be forever.”