After 47 years, SPU gymnastics says goodbye

Lack of Division II programs around nation leads to discontinuation

Daniel Newman, Sports Editor

a female gymnast poses on a floor
Freshman Alixandra Pierce is posing after a tumbling pass. (Jacky Chen)

In the midst of canceled seasons and uncertain futures, the athletic department made one thing clear about the future: Seattle Pacific University no longer has a women’s gymnastics program. The program cut was announced in a campus-wide email on Monday, June 15.

“The decision to discontinue women’s gymnastics at SPU came after a deliberate review and analysis of the state of that sport in the NCAA Division II structure and the conference alignment along with the financial challenges accelerated by COVID-19,” announced members of University and Athletics leadership in a frequently asked questions document that they released along with a statement.

The statement details that while COVID-19 was a factor in the discontinuation, it was not the only reason. As the only school in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference competing in Women’s Gymnastics, the Falcons were in a separate conference for the sport, forcing them to go far and wide for competitions. There are only five division II schools in the country that offer Women’s Gymnastics, and the two that are closest are over 2,000 miles away in Denton, Texas and St. Charles, Missouri.

While the Falcons could compete against local division I competition, having a sport with only five teams in division II, none of them close to Seattle, didn’t seem realistic anymore to the university. 

Athletic Director Jackson Stava explained that no one wants to discontinue a sport, but the choice was made with definite and intentional thought behind it.

“It was an incredibly hard decision,” Stava said in a phone call. “But it was a decision that university leadership feels like is for the best.”

The Athletic Department is still honoring the athletic scholarships that the Falcon Gymnasts have until they graduate from the University. But SPU is also helping athletes who want to transfer to a different gymnastics program. They made the announcement at this time to give the athletes as much time as possible to make a decision on whether to transfer or not.

The gymnastics program is one that will be fondly remembered in Falcon history, as it has three team national championships and 32 individual event champions.

With all these amazing accomplishments in the past, Falcon gymnastics appeared to have a solid future as well. First year head coach Sarah Jean Marshall and first year assistant coach Kaytianna McMillian had the team on the brink of its first USAG Collegiate Championships appearance since 2016.

The Falcons were also continuing to build for the future, with the Falcon Gymnastics Center being used to train the next generation of youth gymnasts. Now, this space will no longer be in use as a gymnastics center, as it is shutting down as well. Stava said that this decision is being made due to tax laws, as they cannot have a space that could be used for profits if it is not part of a varsity sport.

 The space will now be “re-purposed for another function to enhance the campus and athletics community,” according to the statement.

Approximately 155 college and university teams around America have folded since the pandemic hit. Out of these teams, Seattle Pacific is the only school to disband its gymnastic program. Other schools have also used this time to completely rethink their athletic teams.

Notre Dame de Namur University, another division II school in Belmont, California, has decided to disband its entire athletic program, while Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, has gotten rid of eight teams.

The University made clear in the letter that no other athletic program at SPU will be discontinued at this time, and the athletic department is moving ahead with its 12 teams for the next season.

Some fans and gymnasts are not happy with the decision, especially because the committee did not notify coaches and athletes of the cancellation until Monday morning.

Stava said this was because the situation was a sensitive one to everyone involved, and said if it had anything to do with something the athletes had done either athletically or academically, they would have been involved sooner.

A petition entitled “Reinstate Seattle Pacific Women’s Gymnastics,” currently has around 7,000 signatures and is rising by the minute.

The petition states that opportunities are being taken away from female student athletes across the country, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, and that the program was “announced as discontinued this morning without notice or with precise, logical reasons.”

Caroline Jung, a former Falcon gymnast from the Fall of 2016 to the Spring of 2018, was one of those upset by the news.

 “I am absolutely appalled by Seattle Pacific University’s decision to cut the women’s gymnastics program,” Jung said in an email.

“The way the news was communicated to the coaching staff and gymnasts was unacceptable, disrespectful, and unprofessional. Additionally, the provided reasons for disbanding the program are poorly supported and do not compare to the stellar academic and athletic performance this team has displayed.”

Jung went on to say that the University has nothing to gain from cutting the program, especially because she says the program is predominantly self-funded. In response to this, Stava said the program is partially funded through the Falcon Gymnastics Center, but “predominantly” is “too strong a word” to describe the financial arrangement.

While the athletic department says that more funds will not save the program, and there are no plans to reinstate the program in the future, the Falcon community doesn’t seem willing to give up the team without a fight. 

“You’ll hear from us soon. We won’t stop fighting,” Jung said.