.By Anthony Labor The Essex Reporter
After nearly 40 years as coach of the gymnastics program at the Albert D. Lawton Intermediate School, Ruth Dunkley McGowan was sad to hear the news that the program is going to be cut.
“It’s tough after coaching for so long to see the program cut like this,” said McGowan. “It’s a different kind of sport for athletes and it’ll be tough for some kids to stick with it without this program.”
A dwindling interest in gymnastics around the state was the main reason for shutting down the program according to ADL principal Laurie Singer.
“It’s been difficult to find sites within a reasonable traveling distance to have meets,” she said. “The number of middle schools around the state have continued to drop and even our own numbers have dropped a little.”
Without a middle school program, students looking to continue their gymnastics career before high school will most likely have to turn to club gymnastics.
However, McGowan said that isn’t an option for all athletes.
“There are just some people that won’t be able to afford to go to a club program,” said McGowan. “Unfortunately, there aren’t many options out there without the middle school program.”
ADL was the last feeder program for the Essex High School gymnastics team, which went 9-0 and won the state championship this past winter.
Without a feeder program, Essex High School gymnastics coach Ashley Godin thinks it will have an effect on the varsity program.
“If the number of interested athletes decreases at the high school level, we will be at risk to lose the program altogether,” she said. “Because of the minimal options for this sport that are free of charge, it makes it tough to keep athletes interested all the way through.
“It’s imperative to have a feeder program in place to ensure interest and participation at the high school level,” added Godin. “Many kids, including myself, have been a part of ADL gymnastics and benefitted from it in many ways. It is essential to learn the values and responsibilities of being a student-athlete early on.”
South Burlington High School had to shut down its gymnastics program last year after not being able to find a coach. Other schools have had to shut down their programs due to lack of numbers.
McGowan said she hopes an alternative is found to keep gymnastics alive in the Essex community.
“This sport helps the athletes gain self confidence and work hard for personal goals, while also being on a team,” she said. “The athletes in the program now have worked so hard to get to where they are and I hope everyone sticks with the sport. Hopefully we can find an alternative for these athletes for the future.”