Gymnastics, like music, art and other niche sports, has suffered greatly from educational budget cuts. Fewer high schools feature gymnastics programs. Kids are lucky, these days, if they get physical education (PE) at all. Cuts have hit so hard at the college level, the number of NCAA men’s gymnastics teams has gone from 270, only a few decades ago to just 16, now.
The sad and frustrating part is that enthusiasm for boys and men’s gymnastics continues to grow, but boys and men have fewer opportunities to pursue it on a competitive level, in a way that pairs gymnastics with an advanced education.
As the number of college teams has plummeted, so have scholarships to compete and attend school. That, in turn, makes for fewer educational opportunities for many male gymnasts’ who rely on athletic scholarships to offset the expense of college.
What we’re seeing is men who want to continue with gymnastics — while they’re bodies are in their prime — end up forced to choose between gymnastics and a higher education. Because of these cuts to teams and scholarships, male gymnasts are being deprived of opportunities to get an education on par with other athletes.
What ends up happening is that male gymnasts stay local and attend a community college, rather than a larger university, so they can still do gymnastics at their own club or gym. Fewer men at the larger, NCAA affiliated schools also leads to an impoverished NCAA field when good gymnasts get weeded out based on scholarship opportunities and scant team availability.
We spoke with a dedicated men’s gymnastics coach who’s taken a different tack to keep his athletes both in college and in the sport of gymnastics at a high skill level.
Scott Barclay is the force behind the Arizona Sun Devils at the Aspire Kid Center in Chandler, AZ. The Sun Devils have developed a new team model that’s stands alongside their local college, Arizona State University. They are, in essence, a student sports club at ASU and it’s run as a 501c3 non-profit organization.
The way it works is that anyone who pays a fee to the student fitness center can participate in that sports club and can compete as part of the club team. The club team can compete against Division 1 NCAA teams, but it cannot go to the NCAA championships. For Barclay, competing in the NCAA championships remains a fierce and determined advocacy goal.
While this arrangement allows the team to stay relevant and have other high skill level athletes to compete against, it doesn’t secure the team any funding from the university.
In fact, university funding is at the heart of why ASU, along with so many other schools, doesn’t have a gymnastics team.
Pretty much everyone knows football and basketball are the big ticket items in university sports. For that reason, they get the big budget bucks. (Kinda seems self-perpetuating, but we digress).
Football may make the university money, but it also sucks up a lot of a university’s sports funding for stadiums, athlete perks and highly paid coaches, travel, you name it. That money has got to come from somewhere and, as Barclay recounts, it ends up getting siphoned off of other types of sports.
Then there’s Title 9…
‘Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”’
Title 9 has done a lot to get girls and women into sports and its been very important to ensuring that they maintain access to sports programs as budgets get cut.
However, according to Barclay, while Title 9 does do a lot to promote diversity _in_ sports, with regard to gender, it doesn’t do enough to promote diversity _ of _ sports in the face of football and the money it takes to build sports empires. Coach Barclay laments, “I just wish Title 9 had protected men and women and it hasn’t done that.”
Undeterred, Barclay and his team live and breathe, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” And they’ve got plenty of both.
Scott Barclay has kept his Sun Devils afloat every which way he can which includes a whole lot of hustle. The team seeks out company sponsorships for things like coaches salaries, uniforms or travel — a few of their biggest concerns. Barclays asserts, “To remain competitive, you’ve got to have a good coach!”
To supplement grants and sponsorships, Sun Devils team members teach gymnastics clinics to both boys and girls. They put on shows and events. They’ve bought their own floor and equipment which they rent and install, for a fee, to gymnastics gyms for their meets. You can even get some devils to run and score your meet for you!
The Sun Devils themselves, also, host lots of meets locally and in the region, allowing them to keep themselves afloat while they also achieve their goals of perpetuating love of the sport for future generations.
The Sun Devils team started out with a budget of $22,000 and now with the combined fundraising efforts of Barclay’s son, Riley Barclay, a former gymnast, too, they’ve increased their annual running budget to $225,000. “48 kids! Our most ever!” beams Barclay.
The Sun Devils are not the only team to innovate. He says a few other schools, University of Washington, The College at Brockport in Maine, Temple University, use this model, as the landscape is ever-changing.
In fact, the model is expanding in southern and northern California under the direction of Heinz Schulemeister and Sean Lucas, respectively. They’ve both created blanket teams under a “united” banner for their regions. If you’re attending college anywhere in southern California, be it UCLA, San Diego, University of Southern California — any school in southern cali — you can be a part of the Southern California United team.
As Coach Barclay says, “We exist to provide opportunities for male gymnasts to get an education and be a part of an exciting and highly successful high level college gymnastics team… that whole experience people don’t know how great it is until they are part of one!”
Amen to that, Scott! Thank you and all the others out there who are fighting to create those opportunities for young, male gymnasts!