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Where are the Balance Beams?

Dusty glass cases with shelves filled with almost forgotten trophies, line the halls of Waukegan High School. There are trophies for Wrestling, Cheerleading, Boys’ Soccer, Track and many more sports. Something is missing though…

Ever heard of Gymnastics? Waukegan High School used to have a Gymnastics program up until 2005. No one seems to really know why it stopped. The only evidence that we used to have a Gymnastics program are the few awards and the set of rings on the ceiling in the Dog Pound. The rest of the equipment has been put away near the concession stand at the Washington Campus. Still, teachers and students have tried to bring the program back.

“Perhaps the high cost and/or low student participation is what caused the program to drop,” said Patrick Cole, one of the math teachers at Brookside campus. Mr. Cole is a gymnastics coach for Palatine High School’s Junior Varsity team. He has been involved in gymnastics for 24 years. He started gymnastics during his freshman year of high school and was hooked. “I love the fact that if you work hard enough, you can learn it. It is so much fun,” Mr. Cole smiles.

“You can see the direct connection between effort and result.” It also turns out that Mr. Cole started to work at Waukegan High School two years after the gymnastics program was discontinued.

“I talked to the Athletic Director three times to try and restart the program. Three times my request was denied,” Mr. Cole sat silently for a moment. “A student by the name of Kaleb Jaimes, helped me out by having the students sign a petition. That was also turned down.” Recently, a survey about gymnastics was passed out at the Brookside and Washington campuses. Fortythree percent of participants were males and 56% of participants were females. Only 8% surveyed knew that Waukegan High School ever had a gymnastics program, the other 91% had never heard of the program. One of the questions in the surveys asked, if WHS had a gymnastics program, would you be interested in joining the program? Fifty-six per cent stated that they would be interested in taking Gymnastics, while 43% stated that they were not.
Evanston Township High School (ETHS) Head Gymnastics Coach, Chester Jones, explained the costs involved in a gymnastics program. Coach Jones stated, “Equipment alone can be upwards to $50,000. The insurance, utilities and so on. Running a program through school may offset some of these costs.” Schools can use other ways to benefit their programs. “Schools with feeder programs do better than most schools. A feeder program is a program that trains young gymnasts after school that may plan to participate in a sport,” Jones explained. Special insurance is not needed because gymnastics is supported by Illinois High School Activities Foundation (IHSAF), according to Jones.

IHSAF is a non-for-profit corporation dedicated to recognizing academic and interscholastic achievements by high school students in Illinois. More than 350,000 young men and women represent their high schools in IHSA athletic and activity programs ranging from basketball to debate.

Former Waukegan gymnasts from the 1960s to 1990s competed for state championships. Fred Dennis, Jenice Spillman, Dan Bruring and others were competitors. “Dennis is a product of the state’s high school gymnastics system. He competed for Waukegan, winning the state still rings competition as a senior in 1964. At Southern Illinois, Dennis competed for the men’s team that won national championships in 1966 and 1967.
He was a runner-up in rings competition both years. After coaching the Waukegan boys for the 1969 and 1970 seasons, Dennis moved to the Philippines to be the national gymnastics coach, leading the men’s and women’s teams for three years,” according to a Chicago Tribune March 6, 1989 news article. Jenice Spillman placed first in state on the uneven parallel bars and balance beam. She was the only female from WHS who competed for State in 1994-95.

Why did all of this stop? “The coach quit and space was needed for basketball practice,” says ETHS Coach Jones. Perhaps that is so. Yet students seem eager and most definitely interested in having a gymnastics program again. “Bring back gymnastics!” declares Emily Mendez, a Brookside junior and Bulldogs cheerleader. So why not try again?

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