Parents want to keep varsity coach

Audience members ask that boys gymnastics program not be de-funded at Central

Supporters of the Hinsdale Central boys gymnastics program were out in force at the Hinsdale High School District 86 Board meeting last week, upset about plans to cut the gymnastics coaching positions at Central.

Speakers at the May 9 meeting objected to the proposal as part of a move to combine the Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South boys gymnastics programs for the next three years. A large crowd of parents and students joined Lena Theotikos, mom of senior gymnast Nikolas, at the microphone after she invited the team's supporters to join her. She noted that none of her children will be affected by the decision, as Nikolas is her youngest.

"It affects a lot of students to come and that's why I'm here," she said.

Joining the no-cut team was a great experience for her son after starting high school online during COVID.

"The program was amazing for him, sending many of its participants to state as individuals and as a team," she said. "Gymnastics gives this opportunity to everybody. As a no-cut sport, it is inviting to anyone willing to put the time in."

She said after the IHSA last year changed the classification of boys gymnastics to an "emerging" sport and no longer offering a state tournament series, she asked athletic director Mike Jezioro about the sport's future and was told it would not be changing.

She said she did not object to combining the teams, but to having only one coach available to work with the boys.

Kristin Ashby, mom of junior gymnast Kyle, asked why the IHSA decision determines the fate of the coaching staff at Central and brought up the district's decision to add a girls flag football team next year.

"I'm in favor of funding new sports, but not at the expense of eliminating current ones," she said.

Kristen McDaniel, mom of sophomore gymnast Brady, echoed points made by other speakers, then focused her comments on how the decision has been communicated, citing an "absolute lack of transparency."

"We did not find out until a few weeks ago that it was on the chopping block," she said, noting that parents lost a year of working together to find a solution and secure funding. "We weren't even going to be told about it until after the season was over."

McDaniel acknowledged that the decision lies in the hands of administrators, not board members, while asking them to consider funding a coach for Central and new uniforms if the two schools' teams are to be combined.

"These boys deserve better," she said. "Our district deserves better. I know it is not all in your hands but anything that you can do to work with administration to make this happen for all of the boys here and those to come, I would greatly appreciate it."

Chris Kujalowicz, who competed on the Central boys gymnastics team all four years before graduating in 2016, said Central's facilities are among the best in the country, as is coach CJ Johnson.

"This caliber of expertise is unheard of at the high school level, and many NCAA programs would be lucky to have half of this talent," he said.

Board members weren't scheduled to discuss the program, but Jeff Waters requested the agenda be amended to include a conversation.

"I'm just dumbfounded that we aren't making decisions that are student-focused and student-driven," he said. "There's absolutely no reason we can't do something better than what we're looking at tonight."

Board member Peggy James noted, as did some speakers, that the Illinois High School Gymnastics Coaches Association has agreed to help with training, certifying judges and providing meet opportunities.

"It's not just that it's going away and there's no opportunity for these gymnasts," she said. "I would love to see the consideration that there might be something that could be done."

Central Principal Bill Walsh said administrators are treating gymnastics as they have other emerging sports in the past, such as lacrosse and rugby.

"When they were emerging sports, we gave them the time, the space and the place but didn't fund the stipends for the coaches," he said.

"I'm not looking to drop gymnastics. That's not my proposal, that's not athletic director Jezioro's and it was never former athletic director Dan Jones' proposal. The question is at what level District 86 wants to fund it," he added later in the meeting.

Walsh estimated running the program at both campuses with a head coach and assistant coach for each would cost $55,000 to $70,000. Board President Cat Greenspon asked if those numbers could be discussed at a finance committee meeting.

Later in the meeting, Waters cast the sole vote against a package of coaching stipend changes, including $11,757 for a new girls flag football coach.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean