Tumbling into place: Students make sacrifices to form, maintain club gymnastics team
Three times a week, a small group of women make a 30-mile trek to Midland to keep their dream of kickstarting a Central Michigan club gymnastics team alive.
Practice began in November for the group, now just 19 members who make up the team, on the CMU club gymnastics team. Students have attempted to start a club gymnastics team for years, but could not overcome the barrier of finding a place to practice.
There is a gymnastics room in the Rose Center on campus, which is used by the varsity team, CMU gymnastics classes and children’s recreation classes. University Recreation’s Director of Programs Jen Nottingham said the club is not allowed to use the facility due to an incident in 1993, which resulted in a lawsuit against the university.
According to a 1996 edition of Central Michigan Life, freshman Brian Sheridan broke his neck on Nov. 7, 1993 “when he attempted a backflip on the Tumbl-Trak” in the gymnastics room. The accident left Sheridan with permanent injury to his spine. He was later diagnosed as a quadriplegic.
Sheridan filed a lawsuit against the former director of campus recreational services, the former faculty adviser who was present during the accident and the former athletics director for gross negligence. The lawsuit was dismissed and a second suit was filed against them in 1996.
Although the university said it was not responsible for the accident, CMU agreed to pay Sheridan a $1.3 million settlement in 1998.
Nottingham said the past lawsuit is the primary reason previous attempts to start a club gymnastics team have been unsuccessful.
“Based upon the lawsuit, (the gymnastics room) is pretty much restricted to the Athletic Department,” she said. “Students sometimes don’t want to travel, especially when there is a facility here, but we have clubs that travel all the time for a practice facility (like) the equestrian team (and) bass pro fishing.”
Club gymnastics signed a contract in November requiring them to pay rental fees at the Midland Gymnastics Training Center for their practices for an entire year.
The facility in Midland is the nearest gym the club can use for training. Driving to and from Midland three times a week for practice makes the experience pricey and time consuming, senior club co-founder and president Morgan Taylor said.
“I want this to last so badly,” she said. “I don’t know if it will if people have to drive that far.”
On Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday nights, the team meets at her apartment and drives about 40 minutes to Midland. They practice from 9 to 11 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday and 6 to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
“We (spend) almost as long (driving) to and from practices as we (actually) do practice,” said junior team member Tayler Hebenstreit.
Adding the drive time, each practice is about a four-to-six-hour commitment. Taylor said only about six of the original 15 members are able to attend any given practice.
“It’s an expensive sport to begin with,” she said. “It would make it so much easier if we could practice on campus.”
The new club hopes to start competing as early as February. They have been training in all events which include bars, vault, beam and floor events.
Getting off the ground
Taylor hasn’t been able to compete in gymnastics since her junior year of high school due to a back injury which seemingly ended her competitive career. She said she is not nervous about another injury and feels more confident this year because her back is no longer in pain.
“I’m hoping this can be my closure,” she said.
Taylor and senior Maggie Hammond met in a gymnastics class at CMU in fall 2014 and began the process of co-founding the club last spring.
Past students have been discouraged because of how long the process of starting a new club can be. Nottingham said clubs have to start with at least three members, write and have a constitution approved, find competing schools, create a working budget and plan a place and time to hold practices.
Time, interest and commitment are needed to start a new club, but Nottingham also stressed the importance of networking. Involvement with other clubs on campus and having connections with gymnastics clubs at other universities have been key factors in getting CMU’s team started.
Hammond was helped in the process because of her experience with the running club. The combined experience of Taylor and Hammond helped the club get off the ground after years of attempts.
“(They were) willing to meet, willing to put the hard work and time in,” Nottingham said. “Using their network really helped them to get the club going.”
Nottingham also mentioned how the two founders collaborated with other schools' club gymnastics programs.
"In an athletic model, other colleges normally wouldn’t share their game plan with opposing teams," she said. "Club and recreational sports are willing to share their process with other schools because they are looking for more competition."