Gymnastics team safe from downgrade

PLEASANT GAP — The Bellefonte Area High School gymnastics team can breathe easy now that it can keep its title as a varsity sport.

The team had been facing demotion to a club sport due to guidelines and budgetary issues, but thanks to a difference of one vote, the motion set before the Bellefonte Area School Board of Directors did not pass Wednesday night. Voting in favor of making gymnastics a club sport were Hope Boyleston, Jon Guizar, Daniel Miltenberger and President Rodney Musser. Voting against were Vice President Michael Danneker, Keith Hamilton, Kimberly Hearn, Robert Lumley-Sapanski and Robert Pacella.

Many present and past members of the high school gymnastics team, which has been around for more than 40 years, were present to show their strong support of the sport’s varsity status. Musser explained that the primary issue has been that the team has not met Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) criteria, as the team does not go to PIAA state meets.

According to Kelsey Wellar, head coach of the varsity gymnastics team, gymnastics may not currently be a funded sport under the PIAA, but if the state of Pennsylvania reaches 30 teams they will consider funding state meets again. Right now, the state has 21 teams.

“Why take this away from the athletes when it’s not our decision as coaches or as a school district if we compete in a PIAA state meet,” Wellar asked before the motion came to the table.

On Monday morning, Wellar reached out to the PIAA and spoke to assistant executive director Mark Byers on Monday, who said that he did recognize gymnastics as a PIAA sport, as it followed PIAA rules and eligibility guidelines.

According to Musser, while the decision for potential demotion was based on the team’s failure to meet the PIAA criteria, it was ultimately about the school’s budget.

Musser said that this criteria was developed to help the board when club sports come before the board asking to become varsity sports, such as high school lacrosse.

Several members of the high school boys’ lacrosse team were present at the meeting to defend their potential opportunity to become a varsity sport. According to Kevin Smith, the lacrosse program, one of the fastest growing sports, has been self-funded since 2008 and has never been accepted as a fully-sponsored school sport.

“These kids have played no other sport where they have given their heart and soul, and they don’t get the same kind of recognition that their other colleagues do from the school district,” Kevin Smith, coach of the high school boys’ lacrosse team.

One of the board members opposed to demoting gymnastics as a varsity sport, Hearn, spoke of how gymnastics at Bellefonte might not be officially a PIAA sport but the team in essence competes as though it were PIAA.

“We do have guidelines for reasons, and I understand that,” Hearn said. “However, to eliminate a varsity sport without giving them a chance to adhere to the guidelines — I would like to see that happen before we just eliminate them.”