Illinois Bids Farewell to Storied Sport that produced Olympic Gold

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BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Board of Directors announced the discontinuation of a sport that once produced a two-time Olympic gold medal winner. 

The IHSA Boys Gymnastics State Series, a sport with a rich legacy, will no longer be held due to falling below the required participation threshold. The decision, made during the IHSA Board’s meeting in Bloomington on Monday, has evoked a mix of sadness and nostalgia among Illinois athletes, coaches, and fans. 

IHSA policy mandates that a state series tournament cannot be held if the participation level falls below seven percent of member schools. Unfortunately, boys gymnastics failed to meet this requirement for several years. IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson acknowledged the challenging nature of the decision, Monday, stating, “This was a difficult choice that followed extensive discussions and a thorough review of historical data and participation trends. Despite providing a grace period in hopes of a post-pandemic rejuvenation, both boys gymnastics and debate failed to regain the necessary momentum to meet the IHSA policy’s standards.”

The sport of boys gymnastics has witnessed a steady decline in participation over the years. In 1977, the peak year for the sport, 79 schools participated in the IHSA State Series. However, the number dwindled to just 40 teams in 2023, significantly below the required threshold. 

Similarly, debate, which has undergone various evolutions since its inception, saw a decline in participation, with only 39 schools participating in the 2021-22 State Series.

Although the discontinuation of the IHSA Boys Gymnastics State Series marks the end of an era, it does not imply the complete elimination of the sport at the high school level in Illinois. Many schools have already pledged to continue their programs independently, even without the IHSA-administered state tournament. Coaches are expected to organize their own tournaments, as is common for sports and activities not overseen by the IHSA, such as field hockey and ice hockey.

The void left by boys gymnastics and debate in the IHSA State Series will be felt deeply. Throughout the years, Illinois has seen remarkable achievements within the sport, including the crowning of individual state champions and the rise of Olympic gold medalists. Niles West alum Bart Conner, a two-time All-Around State Champion, went on to win two Olympic gold medals for Team USA, showcasing the incredible talent nurtured within the state.

While this decision brings disappointment to those impacted by the discontinuation, the IHSA remains committed to adapting and providing opportunities for as many students as possible. In recent years, the IHSA has introduced new sports and activities, such as cheerleading, dance, lacrosse, bass fishing, and esports, to meet the evolving interests of high school students in Illinois.

As the IHSA Boys Gymnastics State Series bows out, Illinois bids farewell to a sport that has produced illustrious talent and brought pride to the state. The impact of this decision will be felt by the countless athletes, coaches, and fans who have cherished the sport’s rich history and the remarkable achievements it has brought forth.

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