Hampshire Y may disband gymnastics program

  • Rachel Cullington, the assistant director of the YMCA gymnastics program spots Natalie Jordan during a practice with the YMCA gymnastics team Monday afternoon. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rachel Cullington, the assistant director of the YMCA gymnastics program spots Allison Edmands,11, during a practice with the YMCA gymnastics team Monday afternoon. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rachel Cullington, the assistant director of the Hampshire Regional YMCA gymnastics program, spots Natalie Jordan during a practice with the gymnastics team Monday afternoon in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Quincy Biddle,13 during a practice with the YMCA gymnastics team Monday afternoon. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ellie Levine, 9, front, and Yelena Caldanaro, 12, back left, and Summer Sorensen, 12, work out during a practice with the Hampshire Regional YMCA gymnastics team Monday. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Published: 7/17/2018 8:09:25 PM

NORTHAMPTON — With the pending departures of the director and assistant director of the gymnastics program at the Hampshire Regional YMCA, officials at the Y are saying the program is likely to be disbanded for the fall season.

Families of the 78 gymnasts in the program were informed of the decision by email on Friday morning. Meeting Monday night with Julie Bianco, CEO of the Y, parents and gymnasts gave emotional defenses of the competitive program.

Summer Sorensen, a gymnast who has been on the team for the past six years and drives from Chesterfield five days a week to attend practice, began to cry as she made a plea to keep the team together. She said the athletes were more than a team, becoming close friends and confidants.

“I can come to practice and talk to my teammates about problems I am having at school,” said Sorensen, who also said she would gladly drive “two hours, both ways, every day,” if she had to, to keep the team together.

Bianco said she “had little confidence” that she would be able to find a replacement for director Marion Jordan by September, though she said she will be searching for candidates. Jordan, who has worked at Hampshire Regional YMCA coaching gymnastics for the past 19 years, accepted a job with an Amherst health club. Her last day will be Aug. 17.

Jordan said her assistant director, Rachel Cullington, is also leaving to go to school to become a physical therapist.

Jordan said deciding to leave was “really hard,” but she had to “prioritize family.” She has young children and said that working late nights and going to meets on weekends was getting tiring.

Jordan did both coaching and administrative work for the gymnastics program. Coaches also need to be certified by USA Gymnastics.

“This is a specialty program,” said Bianco. “It’s not like basketball where there are hundreds of coaches across the country.”

According to Bianco, her colleague Bob Sunderland, who is the director of the Greenfield YMCA, went on a nine-month nationwide search for a replacement gymnastics coach and didn’t receive a single applicant.

Bianco said she couldn’t guarantee that she would be able to find a replacement to take over the gymnastics team when the season starts in the fall. With only a month and a half before the season starts, it will be almost impossible to find a coach and administrator that quickly, Bianco said.

“I didn’t want to mislead,” said Bianco, who said that rather than keep false hope alive for the gymnasts and their parents, it was better to just pull the program early and start looking for alternative solutions, like merging with another YMCA program or seeking a joint relationship with the Hampshire Gymnastics School. Bianco said that she also wanted to give parents the opportunity to enroll gymnasts in other programs, so that the gymnasts wouldn’t miss out on the fall season.

‘Our family’

Many parents and gymnasts however, said they didn’t want to participate in other programs, and that the Hampshire Y was their community.

Tina Cornell, who is Sorensen’s mother, said “we feel like this is our family.”

The YMCA’s gymnastics program is also one of the only programs in the area, and is much more affordable than programs at other gyms, according to parent Andrea Starkowski. She believes part of the YMCA’s goal is to provide programs for everyone.

Cornell said she was “very, very upset,” by the decision and said that Bianco “dropped the news of the team like a brick through a window.”

Many parents were upset that a job posting did not go up to fill the position when the job first opened up on July 3. For Starkowski, the fact that the job wasn’t posted means that the YMCA isn’t “totally committed” to keeping the program alive.

Starkowski said she thought the YMCA saw a way to fix its space problem when Jordan left by getting rid of the gymnastics team altogether.

“Space is always an issue,” said Bianco, who said that before Jordan left, she had been looking to rent outside space for the gymnastics team. Bianco said that with only one gym, gymnastics competes for space and time with other programs the YMCA offers, like youth and men’s basketball, and senior pickleball.

Alexander Lane, who has a child on the gymnastics team, said he plays basketball three times a week at the YMCA and that competition for space is always an issue. But Lane said that “space can be resolved,” and that the men he plays basketball with are “willing to share.” Lane said the focus of the YMCA right now should be to find a coach for the team.

Parents left Monday’s meeting with mixed feelings about the future. Sarah Buttenwieser said she didn’t feel like Bianco and the YMCA had a “strong level of commitment” to keeping the team alive. But Bianco said she was fully committed to finding a replacement coach, just not confident that she would be able to fill the position by September.

“We need to do everything we can to support our athletes,” said Bianco, who also said that the Y was going to “try our hardest to find a coach.” Bianco said she would continue to search for a coach with the help of a hiring committee, made up of parents of gymnasts.

Cornell said she left the meeting feeling “slightly optimistic” about the future of the team, mainly because the large show of support by the team community.

Bianco agreed that the passion shown at the meeting showed how much people care about the gymnastics program, and she said she would do everything she could to make the program stay afloat.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Sarah Buttenwieser’s surname.




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