It’s a stressful week for the provincial champion gymnasts at Argyle Secondary as BC School Sports considers the future of the sport. There is a push from other regions of BC to drop the sport from the high school roster – but Argyle and the North Shore are fighting to keep it.  

Communications errors

For decades the Argyle gymnastics team has been flourishing. Just this past February students took home the provincial championship – again. In fact, according to team sponsor Darren Rath, it’s thriving throughout the North Shore, however, that is not the case in all parts of BC.

2023 Provincial Champions

“Programs at school are successful that have teachers that have an understanding of the sport and a capacity to connect all the pieces,” said Rath. “Not all schools have the equipment or knowledge to teach a program like gymnastics – that doesn’t mean they don’t have gymnasts and that those athletes can’t compete.

“What I understand to be happening is a communications breakdown between the schools and the [community] clubs.”

Roth explains that some schools are feeling overwhelmed by late competition registrations and the late fees associated. Schools without a teacher sponsor can still enter students in high school competitions. 

“It’s a communications disconnect – not a problem with the sport,” he said.

The disconnect is growing. While gymnastics is strong on the North Shore, some other parts of the Lower Mainland, and Prince George, the voices of schools in other parts of the province against gymnastics are growing.

A sport for all

Generally speaking, there are two categories of sports in high school – team sports (football, rugby, basketball, etc.) and individual sports scored as a team (gymnastics, wrestling, skiing,  cross-country, etc.). It’s the second category Rath is passionate about – the sports that students can join and thrive having never tried the sport prior to high school. 

2022 Provincial Champions

“Gymnastics is actually quite unique – with a few others like track, cross-country and wrestling – that are open to new athletes starting at the beginning,” he said. “Our team had about 60 gymnasts this year, the vast majority of athletes are new to the sport or participated when they were very young.”

He explained that high school gymnastics has five levels. Levels one or two are for beginners, level three is for those who have progressed or with prior experience and levels four and five are for active community athletes.

“All sports have community athletes – 99 percent of high school soccer players are also community athletes,” said Rath. “The majority of our gymnasts are in levels one or two.”

If an athlete places consistently at the top of their tier, they move up to the next, so students can have success where they are. 

“Gymnastics is a fundamental core sport. It teaches coordination, balance, and muscle strength. It has so many benefits,” said Rath. “And it’s here. Let’s not take that away.”

Rath said the teachers find it rewarding to see a student trying gymnastics for the first time in class and suggesting they give the team a try – giving them an opportunity to succeed in a sport the student may have never considered.

“In the past, we had a student who was competing at the national level. What’s great about gymnastics, is that for the team, that student’s score counts only as much as a student new to the sport. We need them both to win.

“At Argyle, 95 percent have never done gymnastics before – we had a student join this year in Grade 11 and he was competitive because he was able to compete at his level.”

With 60 students on the roster, 40 qualified for provincials in 2023.

Sport for the sake of sport

As Argyle and the other schools on the North Shore navigate this potential change, they are getting excellent support from the school district and the Sea to Sky Zone (its sporting region), said Terry Mitruck, Sutherland Secondary’s gymnastics coach. 

“If we lose this sport, what other sports will be next on the chopping block?” he asked. 

Rath agrees. 

“Schools have different facilities, teacher knowledge and sponsor capacities,” he said. “Not all schools have mountains but we still have mountain bike and ski teams.”

He says there is support from gymnastics clubs throughout the province, some have partnerships where student-athletes can join just for the school season. He thinks schools could get creative like the North Shore has by running joint practices and inviting students with lesser facilities (like Handsworth) to train with Argyle.

This would still leave the fundamental communication error plaguing some other regions.  

“If schools don’t have a sponsor or coach, I think this could be resolved by identifying athletes within the school who compete in the community and learning early if they want to compete for their school.”

If gymnastics loses its status as a high school sport, Rath is unsure what the future will hold.

“We would have to find another solution to help this sport continue,” said Rath. “Perhaps it would be taken on by BC Gymnastics but we can’t guarantee an alternative. While gymnastics is an opportunity for all students to get involved, the majority are female [Argyle’s team was 80% female in 2023]. If it’s gone, it’s taking away a female sport.”

For now, Argyle and other schools on the North Shore are waiting to see what unfolds at the BC High School Sport meeting this week. Those wishing to share their support can sign this petition. Current and past participants in high school gymnastics and their families can email letters of support to Terry Mitruk

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