Musical Chairs Begin for NCAA Coaches and Athletes – Other Gym News – Thoughts From Blake and Kino

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, April 30, 2022

Happy Gymnastics Saturday! My name is Lela Moore. I’m taking over here at The IX for Jessica Taylor Price, who leaves a big chalk bucket for me to fill. A little about me: I’m a freelance writer based in New Jersey, where I live with my partner, our son, and an elderly cat. I cover gymnastics along with other sports, parenting, health news, and mental and physical well-being. I did rec gymnastics as a kid. I had to quit after a growth spurt sent my center of gravity to places unknown, but I can still do a back tuck off a diving board or on a trampoline, which makes me a hit at children’s birthday parties at SkyZone. 

So let’s dive roll right in. 

NCAA coaching changes 

While we were all waiting to hear from Clemson this week, Florida assistant coach Owen Field taunted us: https://twitter.com/CoachOwenField/status/1519783264915005445?s=20&t=ucS1KwY9qm-sdQZJifPXrw

The news we can use arrived Tuesday. Clemson, which will start its gymnastics program in 2023, and whose potential coaching staff has been a hot topic amongst the gymternet, announced its head coach: Amy Smith. 

Smith is a UCLA Gymnastics alum who has been the head coach at Utah State University for five years. She comes to Clemson with, shall we say, a bit of baggage. 

A tweet from former USU gymnast Glory Yoakam, which was originally posted in May 2021, made the rounds. CW: discussion of eating disorders. 

Raine Gordon, who was coached by Smith at UNC, also chimed in: https://twitter.com/rainey_dayyz/status/1519457152439488513?s=20&t=BaEBElUMLcjzbjwCYgRflw

Smith’s roster also suffered from quite a bit of attrition during her tenure.
https://twitter.com/jordansgienger/status/1519021928731725824?s=20&t=_62Tu78CJeHElNS41KB9TA

Neither Smith nor Clemson has made a statement regarding the accusations against Smith. 

At Georgia, assistant coach Josh Overton and volunteer assistant coach Katie Heenan Dodson are out: 

Heenan Dodson, a former Georgia star gymnast and a teammate of Georgia’s head coach Courtney Kupets Carter on three national championship teams there, recently came under fire for a bigoted social media post she wrote last year just after the January 6, 2021, invasion of the Capitol. Georgia has not made a statement about the reasons for Dodson’s or Overton’s exits.

Former Utah head coach Greg Marsden is keeping a chart on all the coaching changes: https://twitter.com/UtahMarz/status/1519414007798505476?s=20&t=kRV_ya_egApNrkmqgQBKFA

Marsden also checked in with coaches about changes in the recruiting process post-NIL. https://twitter.com/utahmarz/status/1519404540260323330?s=21&t=_CGLzrLU1P8TNqiXvG__Xg

And speaking of the transfer portal…

We heard a rumor that a Big 10 floor star was transferring to Florida. But Mya Hooten’s not transferring to Florida, or anywhere else: https://twitter.com/MyaHooten1/status/1519068392958930945?s=20&t=j_oXtr0q-0hNozfJngQHRQ

Victoria Gatz is transferring from Mizzou: https://twitter.com/alysbun/status/1519068404577099778/photo/1

BYU’s Sophia McClelland tweeted that she has entered the transfer portal: https://twitter.com/gymfanamy/status/1519419595928395776?s=20&t=37wUoKQdHxu3c5PrBXdFcg

Victoria Nguyen has left Georgia: https://www.instagram.com/p/Cc6cg81Mab6/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=

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Other Gym News 

Steve Penny won’t be charged with evidence tampering in the Larry Nassar case. You might remember that Penny, who resigned as the CEO of USA Gymnastics in 2017, was arrested quite dramatically in October 2018 by U.S. Marshals while on vacation in Gatlinburg, Tenn. He was extradited to Texas, where he was charged a third-degree felony. Allegedly, Penny shipped documents related to Nassar in a suitcase (that he made an associate buy) from the Karolyi Ranch to USAG HQ in Indianapolis, a day before the Texas Rangers came to the Ranch with a search warrant. Walker County, Texas, officials claim “insufficient evidence”; Rachael Denhollander called it “a slap in the face.” https://www.espn.com/olympics/gymnastics/story/_/id/33811363/evidence-tampering-charges-dismissed-former-usa-gymnastics-ceo-steve-penny?device=featurephone

Victoria Levine takes a retroactive four-year suspension from coaching. Levine is a co-owner of MG Elite, where Maggie Haney also coached. Haney’s hearing led to similar emotional abuse charges against Levine.

Dutch gymnasts said their national program is in shambles in the wake of abuse allegations against their top coaches: https://nos.nl/artikel/2426285-noodkreet-topturnsters-situatie-uitzichtloos-zo-geen-perspectief-toekomst (You’ll need Google Translate for this link)

Liz Kincaid lost her job coaching the British WAG Olympic team after serious allegations against her by her former gymnasts emerged: https://www.bbc.com/sport/gymnastics/61193111

How Christy Henrich’s eating disorder promised a reckoning within gymnastics that still hasn’t happened: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/26/sports/christy-henrich-gymnastics-eating-disorder-death.html (paywall)

Victoria Nguyen clarified in the comments that the abusive coach she called out on TikTok was NOT Liang Chow, one of her former elite coaches. Her post contained hashtags referring to both D1 and elite. 

@vwinn_

LOL i’ll leave on my own dw👨‍🦯healthy coaching=healthy gymnastics😌 this was not it 🧍‍♂️ #d1 #gymnastics #athlete #elitegymnastics

♬ original sound – Stan 🙂

The NCAA championships were moved to an earlier time slot on ABC to accommodate the NHL. Then they beat the hockey in both ratings and viewership. https://twitter.com/FOS/status/1519046543868891137?s=20&t=37wUoKQdHxu3c5PrBXdFcg

Amy Tinkler was in the cheerleading world champs: https://twitter.com/TheMedalCount_/status/1518025208841617409?t=hJ11Am5XeRxipc50Tu5RSQ&s=19

Jordan Chiles signs an NIL deal with NWSL’s Angel City: https://www.sportspromedia.com/news/angel-city-nil-deals-ncaa-athletes-nwsl-usc-ucla-jordan-chiles-amari-avery/

There’s a National Team Camp in Katy, Tex., this week. Jordan Chiles, Leanne Wong, and Jade Carey, all returning to elite from showstopping freshman NCAA seasons, are there. We love to see it. https://www.instagram.com/p/Cc0vkqDphUl/

Here’s who’s attending camp: https://usagym.org/pages/post.html?PostID=27369

Wong is there with Owen Field, Florida’s assistant coach, who seems pretty stoked about it. https://twitter.com/CoachOwenField/status/1519783264915005445?s=20&t=apUt9iQwGLTKwLQcKmCB_g

Shift Movement Science posted a reminder to gymnastics coaches about piling criticism on top of self-critical athletes after three prominent D1 athletes died by suicide in the NCAA this week. https://www.instagram.com/p/Cc5T9UDOL1L/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.

Amelie Morgan hit every one of her NCAA routines this year: https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cc5liS7j-cA/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Margzetta Frazier had surgery: https://twitter.com/MBFDoom/status/1519699800081412102?s=20&t=37wUoKQdHxu3c5PrBXdFcg

Norah Flatley tweets about taking care of her own mental health for a while: https://twitter.com/norah_flatley/status/1519180095843409920?s=21&t=DMdiMn5Q-Ho3T0gJjFNPRA

Norah, we wish you all the best. 


Five at The IX: Blake and Kino

Blake and Kino are the hosts of Half In, Half Out, a podcast that discusses LGBTQ+ culture in gymnastics. Blake (he/him/his) lives in Detroit and does LGBTQ+ work for a university there. Kino (she/her/hers) lives in northern Indiana and works in education. I wanted to take their pulse on the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sport as NCAA wraps up and elite gets going. This interview has been edited for clarity.

What got you into gymnastics? Where (or from whom) does your fandom come from?

Kino: I did rec gymnastics as a kid until I got too busy with other activities. The story is that my parents asked if I wanted to continue gymnastics or soccer, but I couldn’t do both because of the timing. I allegedly said soccer, but I don’t believe them. Soccer had more running, and I’ve never liked that!

But even after I stopped going to gymnastics, I always liked watching it on TV. I followed the Olympics like a regular four-year fan (my parents like to watch in then too, and even saw some of the competition in 1996 in Atlanta), and i would get excited when I occasionally got to see a glimpse of NCAA on TV. I started following the sport more seriously after the 2012 Olympics in London, and a bit more “obsessively” in 2015. I followed elite pretty exclusively until the 2016-2017 NCAA season, when Kyla Ross was a freshman at UCLA.

Blake: I fell in love with gymnastics when I was 3, in a combination ballet/gymnastics class, and switched to just gymnastics by age 5. I was assigned female at birth and did women’s gymnastics.

By age 12, I’d lost that love, and was begging to quit. I felt like my coaches hated me, and I was embarrassed that I hadn’t advanced in my gymnastics level in five years (which means the girls in my level with me were 5 years younger than me). I wasn’t advancing because my gym did not have proper equipment, and because my coaches made sure I knew I didn’t belong there. They began to refuse to help me learn new skills, or to spot me because of my size, and I was eventually able to convince my parents that the sport was no longer safe for me.

I didn’t watch or think much about gymnastics until a few years ago, when YouTube randomly suggested I watch a video about Jordyn Wieber’s college experience. I had spent thousands of hours of my life in the gym, but had never even heard of college gymnastics. I can’t thank Deanna Hong enough for creating the YouTube content that made me fall in love with college gymnastics as a fan. From there, I started following UCLA, which led me to other gymnastics podcasts, where I learned about adult gymnastics.

I returned to the gym as an athlete for the first time, now as an openly transgender man, at age 26. After two years, the gym asked me to join the coaching staff, and I now coach a class for gymnasts with disabilities.  The podcast has played a huge role in expanding my gymnastics fandom beyond one team. 

How did you get into podcasting? Was there anything in particular that made you realize that your work was needed in this space? 

Blake: Kino and I met at a University of Michigan gymnastics meet (UCLA was the visiting team), and came out to each other quickly. We started talking about the lack of LGBTQ+ representation in gymnastics, especially women’s gymnastics. We floated some ideas for how we could start that conversation; a podcast sounded like the best format for us, and Kino had some experience podcasting. Nine months later we released our first episode, still thinking we’d be focusing primarily on the lack of representation and the reasons for it. But within a few months, gymnasts started coming out, one after the other, and we realized our mission was going to primarily be to share their stories. Kalyany Steele’s coming out video (also produced by Deanna Hong, who is, notably, an openly gay Asian woman) was a huge catalyst for other athletes to come out and to want to share their stories, and we were lucky enough to already exist and to be prepared to provide them that space.

Kino: I did another podcast before Half In Half Out that wasn’t sports related. When Blake asked if I would be interested in doing an LGBTQ+ gymnastics podcast, I knew I could bring some of those skills and that knowledge to this one (as a two-person outfit, we self-produce everything). 

I realized that this was a place that I could freely talk about my queer identity as well as my love for gymnastics (and I didn’t have many spaces where I could talk about either). Until Blake and I became friends, there had been no space for that in my life. I knew that gymnastics had a large queer following from my time on Twitter, but I didn’t know of many (if any) currently competing gymnasts that were out. When Blake and I discussed it, we could really only name a handful of retired men. We really wanted to dive into queer history of the sport, and we thought this was the way to do it. That’s before it exploded into what we know now. 

Now we have all of these queer voices in gymnastics that we didn’t originally know about when we started. With all of those gymnasts out there, it’s really important that we continue to amplify their voices and give them the space to talk about their experiences.

Diversity and inclusion in gymnastics often feels like it’s one step forward, a few steps back. What is something you would like to see from NCAA teams or elite leadership that would signal a real commitment to DEI?

Kino: DEI cannot be performative. We need to see coaches and leadership educate and advocate without athletes demanding it. The expectations need to be that the athletes come first and supporting all parts of their identity–not just their identity as a gymnast–is a priority.

A good example would be when the University of Illinois MAG team had their Pride meet this year. It wasn’t a student-athlete idea. Program leadership said, “We’re doing this meet.” An athlete didn’t have to bring it up and go through the bureaucracy of getting it approved. Because it came from the top, the athletes didn’t have to worry about that part. 

But it’s not just hosting Pride meets, Black Excellence meets, or equality meets. Programs, both elite and NCAA teams, need to commit to educating themselves. It shouldn’t be on athletes from marginalized groups to do that educating. Gymnastics has historically been very homogeneous 

in a lot of ways, and clubs and teams need to celebrate the diversity that exists, but you can’t celebrate something if you aren’t willing to learn about it and take the actual steps to be an ally. 

Blake: I really appreciate this question. The gymnastics community needs to do a much better job of supporting, retaining, and protecting gymnasts of color (especially Black and Indigenous folks), LGBTQ+ gymnasts, gymnasts with disabilities, and gymnasts who are not Christians. These athletes are significantly more likely to have negative experiences in their home gyms, at every level of gymnastics ability, and are therefore less likely to stay with the sport and become coaches, commentators, etc.

We need more leadership and media that reflect the identities and experiences of the diverse community of gymnasts. This means actively combatting racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism and sexism inside the gym and on social media, which includes holding coaches, athletes, and parents who cause harm accountable. There is some access to basic training for coaches, but training is not enough, and there is rarely any requirement to do it. Coaches and athletes need access to specific, personalized assistance when these issues arise. Universities, in particular, tend to think they have these systems in place, but time after time we watch these “systems” fail. The NCAA and USAG need to hire specific individuals whose entire job is this. The talent exists in higher education already; the positions, essentially, do not. Some athletic departments have a specified DEI professional, but so far that has not proven to be sufficient in many cases. For example, UCLA has one, and look how that turned out. We would also love to see more podcasts similar to ours that focus on marginalized identities and experiences within the gymnastics community.

What is the coolest thing anyone has ever said on your podcast? 

Blake: The moment that sticks out to me is in our second athlete interview episode with Sav Schoenherr from Florida. The interview prior was with Ella Douglas from Michigan State, who had said she thought she was the only openly LGBTQ+ gymnast on any women’s college gymnastics team. Sav saying “You’re not the only one” [in response to Douglas] will always stick with me, especially now knowing that there were about a dozen openly LGBTQ+ women and nonbinary people competing in collegiate “women’s” gymnastics two seasons later.  

Kino:

We’ve talked to so many cool people, but our interview with Kathy Johnson Clark is just a cool episode in general. She is truly one of the biggest allies in the gymnastics community, and she’s really committed to supporting athletes. If you tell Kathy something she doesn’t know, she immediately wants to learn more about it. She’s been around a long time, and I think she’s using her place in the gymnastics community for so much good. 

And honestly, Morgan Hurd saying Half In Half Out was their favorite podcast was the coolest things ever said to me in my entire life, not just the show. Morgan has been my favorite for a long time and having them on the show twice has left me a bit mind-blown each time. 

What is your favorite gymnastics skill on any apparatus? 

Kino: My favorite skill right now is the between-the-bars Gienger (or the Deltchev version) on bars. It’s less common, so it’s a nice little surprise when you see it for the first time in someone’s routine.

Blake: A half in half out, of course. 😉


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Written by Lela Moore