Unless the district is able to hire a new head coach, the gymnastics programs at Lawrence and Free State high schools could be in jeopardy — again.
The city high schools, which share a coach, had a vacancy as late as August last year before Danielle Hayes was hired, saving the 2011 season.
When Hayes recently submitted her resignation in order to become a full-time college student, the city’s high school gymnasts experienced some déjà vu.
“We’re worried if we don’t have a coach,” Lawrence High senior Lindsey Fangman said, “we’re not gonna have a program at all.”
LHS athletic director Ron Commons said the schools want to fill the position by Aug. 1. In the event someone isn’t hired, Lawrence and defending state champion Free State might have to pull the plug on their programs.
Complicating the process, Commons said, is a void of hirable candidates. Gymnastics coaches must be certified.
“The safety of the girls is the biggest concern,” Commons said. “You can’t just hire someone off the street.”
Free State athletic director Mike Hill agreed that knowledge level is a big part of being qualified enough to coach gymnasts. Still, he said there is some good news regarding the search process.
“Last summer, we were looking for a coach in late July,” Hill said, “so I think we’re in a little bit better situation.”
FSHS senior Jackie Zaitz said last year the gymnasts loved their assistant coach, Jennifer Pogge, and they hope it will work out for her to be a candidate for head coach.
Whomever is hired, Zaitz said the coaches were spread thin last year, when Pogge was the lone assistant.
“I think they found out that having two (assistants) would be a lot easier,” she said.
In 2011, the state’s other programs had begun practicing before the LHS and FSHS seasons were solidified. Hoping to avoid going through that again, Hill said all the gymnasts and their parents were contacted more than a week ago to let them know about the coaching vacancy. The athletic directors even encouraged the parents to help promote the fact that the job is open.
“It was very difficult to get qualified applicants a year ago,” Hill said. “Word of mouth is important”
The decline of gymnastics, both city athletic directors noted, has been a trend. Right now, including Lawrence and Free State, only 13 schools in the state have teams. Nine of the others are from the Sunflower League: Olathe East, Olathe North, Olathe Northwest, Olathe South, Shawnee Mission East, Shawnee Mission North, Shawnee Mission Northwest, Shawnee Mission South and Shawnee Mission West. The other two schools are Emporia and Newton.
“It’s just hard to find qualified people,” Hill said.
Fangman said the gymnasts have gone so far as gathering for brainstorming sessions to come up with potential coaches. She said they remain hopeful.
“I think we’re more optimistic than we were last year,” Fangman said.
Zaitz felt even more positive.
“We’re all really excited for the season,” she said.