Middle schools to replace gymnastics with soccer programs

February 16, 2009

By Christopher Huber

Beginning in September, girls soccer will replace gymnastics at all Issaquah School District middle schools. Operational, financial and participation considerations led the district to switch to soccer, said Ron Thiele, district associate superintendent.

During the past 18 months, Thiele said he met with principals, athletic directors, middle and high school gymnastic coaches, physical education teachers, students, parent groups and the district’s risk management insurance pool.

District officials ultimately decided to discontinue gymnastics because of the high equipment maintenance costs and lack of competition among middle schools in the surrounding districts, he said.

“It’s a pretty expensive sport to operate,” he said. “Gymnastics is a sport that’s hard for a lot of school districts to maintain.”

He said that over the years, the school district has received numerous requests to add soccer teams at the middle school level.

“It was a tough decision to make,” Thiele said. “It’s too bad we can’t do both, but we had to make a choice and we think that it may increase our participation.”

The 2009-10 season will be a transition year, meaning middle school teams will primarily play at an intramural level with league competitions. This will give each school’s team a chance to grow without the pressures of competition, Thiele said.

Hannah Bergam, a freshman member of the Liberty High School gymnastics team and a former gymnast at Maywood Middle School, said it’s a shame gymnastics is being cancelled at the middle schools.

“That is where my love for gymnastics began,” she said. “I just hope that the Liberty gymnastics program won’t suffer.”

Bergam played soccer for several years on a club team, but switched to gymnastics after being part of the Maywood gymnastics program.

Hannah’s mother Linda Bergam said she understands the district’s decision, but is disappointed for gymnasts.

“Not only do the younger kids miss out on early exposure to school competition, but high school programs lose the farm team aspect of middle school gymnastics,” she said. “For the schools that have private gyms nearby (like Newport High School and Gymnastics East), there is a steady stream of budding gymnasts coming up the ranks. But Liberty does not have a private gym in their attendance area, so we’ll feel the consequences more.”

Moreover, students who don’t have the family resources to pay for private coaching or club team participation will not be as competitive at the high school level, she said.

Hannah van Amen, a seventh-grader at Maywood Middle School, applauded the district’s decision.

“Soccer is very popular among kids,” she said. “This will open the door to students who have an interest in soccer.”

Last March, Hannah was a member of the Patriots Select soccer team that won the Washington Youth Soccer Challenge at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila. Eleven of the team’s players were Maywood students. Darrell van Amen, Hannah’s father, coached the team.

“I welcome the school district’s decision,” he said. “Of course, I have a great bias toward soccer, but it offers great cardiovascular benefits and it helps youngsters understand working with groups. The more we have our teenagers and pre-teens working for a common goal is always good.”

Reach reporters Jim Feehan at 392-6434, ext. 239, or jfeehan@isspress.com, and Christopher Huber at ext. 242 or chuber@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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