FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) – Ragan Smith had no shortage of choices in college, as it does when you are an elite gymnast with a national title on your resume.
One option was unavailable to Smith. It does not exist.
Texas, home to this week’s NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships, a state where Olympic champions Carly Patterson, Nastia Lukin, Simone Byles, a state with more than 20 colleges, and a university now ranked as Division I, stand out. the most. Prominent gymnastics programs in the country, if not the world, have exactly six scholarships for women in gymnastics, all in Division II at Texas Women’s University.
That meant Smith, who moved from Georgia to the suburbs of Dallas at the age of 13 to train at the gym owned by former world champion and Olympic bronze medalist Kim Zmeskal, had to leave Texas to compete in Division I.
“All of these great clubs are in Texas, you might think (big schools) would have a program,” Smith said. “But they really do not.”
Everything went very well for Smith, who is now a junior in Oklahoma. He և Suners will be vying for their fourth national title in eight years on Saturday when they meet Florida, Auburn and Utah at the Dicky Arena, a magnificent facility three miles from TCU University.
The Horned Frogs offers 13 college women’s sports, including equestrian, rifle, and triathlon. Just not gymnastics.
It’s the same in Texas (which offers rowing, among others), in Baylor (which has acrobatics-trumping, rhythmic gymnastics cousin), Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Houston and Rice և all the rest. Representatives of Texas և Texas A & M contacted the Associated Press this week, both of whom said they had no plans to offer women’s gymnastics as a university sport.
While many schools have student-run gymnastics clubs that are not affiliated with the sports department, they must raise funds to survive, which means that top athletes such as Smith and Auburn senior Drew Watson need elsewhere. look if they want to continue. their careers.
Watson grew up in Tyler, Texas and would rather stay home. Instead, he settled in Auburn, a nine-hour drive away, a journey his parents seldom made at the beginning of his career.
It was the same for most of his Texas teammates in Eastern gymnastics. When it came time to go to college, they spread across the country, from Kentucky to Ohio, Arkansas to Florida.
This is true for almost every top 10 elite or elite gymnast in Lone Star State. Seven of the eight teams that qualified for the national championship this week had at least one Texas on their roster, and several other teams, such as Arkansas senior Kennedy Hambrick and 2020 Olympic silver medalist Jordan Chailes, were included in the individual qualifiers. The Houston area trained with the Bills at the World Champions Center a few years ago.
Watson just laughed when asked what would happen if one of Texas’ mainstream schools jumped in and did what schools like Clemson do, adding a sports program during a severe boom.
“It will definitely change the game,” he said.
How expensive! There are 12 full scholarships in Women’s Gymnastics I, the number of which can be expanded to 14. Reduce training, travel, coaching salaries, everything else, and building a competitive team is not cheap. Add to that the wavy effects of Title IX, which requires that “the sporting interests and abilities of male and female students must be equally and effectively fitted” and that mathematics could be difficult.
However, in some places there is hope that women’s gymnastics can be “income neutral”. It’s model LSU trainer Jay Clark hopes his plan can reach the end of the decade or the Tigers may be an exception. LSU is usually one of the national leaders in average attendance, with an average of 11,691 fans invited to their five home games this season, which are the leaders of the country.
While the increase in scholarships could be a barrier to possible programs, Clark sees it as a matter of supply and demand.
“We have not grown since 1995, the stock of talent has quadrupled,” he said.
He is not joking. Over the past decade, the number of active level 10 athletes, who make up the vast majority of college athletes, has almost doubled from 1,600 to about 3,100.
The talent that is displayed every day at the World Champions Center, the huge gym, Nellie Byles, opened in 2015 in the early stages of her daughter’s extraordinary career. Over the past seven years, the gym has produced more than a dozen Division I athletes.
“If that opportunity opens up in Texas, I think it’s going to be a gold mine,” said Nellie Byles. “There are so many girls in Texas who are being recruited everywhere. “I’m convinced that UCLA and Alabama are happy that we do not have one.”
Oklahoma longtime coach K. Jay Kindler has four Texans on his roster. The field of his collection is a combination of quality. The Sooners are in the final for the ninth time in a row և being close to home. Kindler is “shocked” that he does not compete with Oklahoma’s arch-rival schools in almost every sport.
“If a DI program were launched in Texas, they would be competing for national championships very quickly,” he said.
This is not because athletes do not try. The Gymnastics College Growth Initiative was launched by the Women’s College Gymnastics Association to “raise awareness and pursue new college college gymnastics programs across the country.”
The CGGI, created in the mid-1990s to “save our (buttocks),” according to Long Island University head coach Randy Lane, has made several presentations to Texas schools.
“We really tried not to give up on the ‘You have to add’ view, because when you do, they are not going to,” Lane said. “You have to show them the benefits of the program. We show that we are one of the best sports when it comes to the average grade, it is one of the best sports (Level of Academic Progress).
The Texas Women’s University, which won its 12th college national championship last week, could jump into Division I, head coach Lisa Bowerman countered when asked.
“It would be amazing to see that happen, but that’s all I can say at the moment,” he said.
The NCAA will continue its presence in Texas. The women’s championships are scheduled to continue in Fort Worth until at least 2026. A centralized location is ideal, but there is more to it than just advertising.
“It (the NCAA) wants to show (Texas) that ‘you have to get a plan,'” said ESPN analyst and two-time Olympic gold medalist Bart Conner.
For now, athletes like Smith: Watson can take comfort in the fact that their families do not have to cross the state border to watch their games at their biggest game of the season, while the Texas club owners wait for recruitment calls to start coming from acquaintances. area code
“We have great schools in Texas,” Byles said. “They have to take it.”
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