Emotional and controversial goodbye to an historic gymnastics program at SPU

It’s a program that won three national titles and produced 221 All-America Awards. But after 45 years at Seattle Pacific University, women’s gymnastics is gone and many are looking for answers.

After COVID-19 took away much of this academic year, Kylie Reese was looking forward to returning for her senior year at SPU. But then – the other shoe dropped.

“Gymnastics was cut, and that was basically it. My SPU gymnastics career was over,” Reese said.

Last week, the school decided to eliminate its gymnastics program for good. It was a team Kyle considered family – an atmosphere that made the choice to attend SPU so easy.

Now she faces the dilemma of what to do next.

“That’s what hurts the most,” she said. “That all of a sudden, June 15th your telling me that I can transfer and saying that this was the right time. How was this the right time when I’m going to be a senior? I’ve registered for classes at SPU already for next quarter and you’re telling me that I can’t do gymnastics.”

Although the school’s decision-making process began prior to COVID-19, coaches and players had no knowledge the program would be dropped. The pandemic accelerated the process.

“The long-term prognosis for the sports of gymnastics and small colleges is something the department has been concerned about and that’s what ultimately led to the decision,” SPU athletic director Jackson Stava said.

“There will be a cost-saving certainty. It is not so significant that we made this decision just so we can have money for other programs.”

Added current coach Sarah Marshall: “It’s really confusing why something so good could be taken away so quickly.”

For Marshall and former SPU gymnast and a former head coach 44 years Laurel Tindall, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. They spent a combined 61 years of their lives with the gymnastics program at SPU. This was a day they didn’t see coming.

“It’s a gut punch,” Tindall said. “I put everything in that program. My daughter grew up and became a gymnast there. I know it wasn’t worthless, but now it sure makes it seem that way.”

The Falcons gymnastics center will also shut down, which means no more youth camps either. Reese coached at those camps twice a week along with other Falcon gymnasts.

“Those little girls look up to us,” Reese said.” We are more than a gymnastics program. I’ve learned so many valuable lessons with my time at SPU. I gave it my all and they supported me and that’s what I always remember about the family that is SPU Gymnastics.”

Close to 15,000 signatures have been collected on a petition to reinstate the program, with a large push from alumni to get the administration to reverse its decision.

There are now currently just five other Division II programs that sponsor women’s gymnastics, and the closest one is more than 2,000 miles away. However, SPU competes for most of its season against Pac-12 programs and other schools in Division I.