'Agonizing and heart-wrenching': Seattle Pacific University cuts women's gymnastics program
The Seattle Pacific University athletic department this week announced the discontinuation of its women’s gymnastics program.
The decision comes following an “extensive review” of the sport in the NCAA Division II structure, according to the school. The novel coronavirus pandemic had an “adverse” impact on the gymnastics program, the news release said, expediting an assessment process that began prior to the health crisis.
“The landscape of collegiate gymnastics has changed drastically since this program’s inception and current financial realities have forced us to accelerate a process of evaluating the long-term viability of gymnastics at Seattle Pacific,” SPU athletic director Jackson Stava said in a statement Monday. “Through this evaluation, the university has determined the need to discontinue the gymnastics program at this time.”
Women’s gymnastics was a decorated program at SPU, winning three national titles since it became a school-sponsored sport in 1974. Falcons’ gymnasts also earned a combined 32 individual national championships and 221 All-America awards.
Sarah Jean Marshall, who served as the head of the women’s gymnastics team, told The Seattle Times that she was caught off guard by the school’s disbanding of the program.
“We had no (prior) conversations surrounding gymnastics being dropped,” Marshall told The Times in a story published Tuesday. “There were no considerations of making adjustments to our program. It was a very quick (meeting) process with no room for conversation. I don’t feel that I’ve been given any clear, definite reasons why this decision was made at this time.”
SPU athletics director Jackson Stava told The Times that he understood Marshall’s frustration.
“With the incredibly sensitive nature of a decision like this, university leadership just didn’t feel that it would be effective to have Sarah be a part of it,” Stava said. “Certainly if the decision were being made based on actions of her team or actions of her coaching staff — their performance, their culture — absolutely we would have engaged her. But this review was more about the long-term future and viability of gymnastics for us at Seattle Pacific.”
With the program discontinued, scholarships for current SPU gymnasts — including grants awarded to incoming students beginning in fall 2020 — will be honored for four years of undergraduate studies at the school. Student athletes who would like to transfer are being allowed to do so immediately and without penalty.
The announcement was made now “to enable the impacted student-athletes as much time as possible to find another institution where they can continue competing in gymnastics, if they choose to do so,” the school said.
Seattle Pacific’s Falcons Gymnastic Center will also cease operations and no longer host gymnastics youth camps, and the accompanying club team will no longer be sponsored by the school The facility will be “repurposed for another function to enhance the campus and athletics community,” per the news release.
The championship banners of the gymnastics program will continue to be displayed in Brougham Pavilion on the SPU campus.
“This decision has certainly been both agonizing and heart-wrenching as it impacts our student-athletes, coaches, alumni and university community in significant ways,” Stava said. “While difficult, this decision has been deliberate and made with great thought and diligence in an effort to ensure the long-term future success of Falcon athletics.
“This is a difficult day (Monday) for Falcon athletics and the university community as a whole as SPU gymnastics has contributed in many ways to this university over the past 47 years. I am sincerely grateful to all who have participated in and supported SPU gymnastics over the years. We will continue to celebrate the success and legacy of this program in the years to come.”
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Ben Arthur covers sports for SeattlePI. He can be reached by email at @benyarthur.