Colton High School senior Madalyn Spitzer, a gymnast who has earned more medals in her sport than most, had never been awarded a varsity letter in sports — until now.
Spitzer, who was a valedictorian for the CHS class of 2017 last week, is among many Oregon high school gymnasts who represent their schools in gymnastic meets, but must rely on club sports to train and compete.
The reason? Gymnastics is no longer an Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) sanctioned sport.
At one time 93 schools in Oregon had competitive varsity gymnastics programs, today it is zero.
An OSAA spokesperson explained that gymnastic equipment took up a lot of gym space and gym time.
The OSAA spokesperson said that with the advent of Title IX more competitive girls volleyball and basketball teams were added to school sports programs, tightening up space and allotted time for extracurricular sports and games. Klein pointed out that insurance to cover gymnastics is expensive and prohibitive for school districts. He also said club programs were better able to dedicate expert coaching and focused time to training and conditioning, making the sport safer as well as more competitive.
Move started to recognize club athletes in the schools
Last August KGW-TV Channel 8 did a feature story entitled "Oregon High School Gymnasts Rely on Club Sports." In the story, David Klein, president of Metro Gymnastics Academy in Tigard, said he was working to find a way for Oregon high schools to allow club athletes the same chance to earn a varsity athletic letter as the participants on school teams.
"Our athletes represent their schools in gymnastic meets, even though they are not competing for a school," Klein said.
Klein said he was planning to approach school districts to ask if club gymnasts who meet a set criteria could be recognized by their school with a sports letter.
Featured in the televised piece was Madalyn (Maddie) Spitzer, who has earned her way to regionals each year she was eligible, a gymnast who has also been a 4.0 point student.
"It's too bad we can't be recognized by our school," Maddie said during the KGW interview. "We really don't have time to be part of other school activities."
She said she learned to manage time effectively as a result of her demanding schedule.
Colton changes its policy
CHS principal, Tori Hazelton said she saw the piece on TV and wanted to be able to recognize Maddie with an athletic letter.
"We had to set standards that could be used not just for Maddie, but for other CHS students who participate in club sports," Hazelton said.
The school policy was explained in a release:
The criteria set for outside sports to earn a CHS Letter are as follows, and in line with what students participating in a school sport would have to demonstrate:
- Successful Participation in the Sport
- Maintaining Required Standards of Scholarship
- Maintaining Standards of Citizenship
- Regular Attendance to Practices/Games/Events
- The outside sport must be equivalent to a High School Varsity Program
Not only did Madalyn meet the criteria for the athletic letter, she surpassed it as she earned the academic success of valedictorian. The school awarded Madalyn Colton's varsity letter-complete with a gymnastics insignia. They also awarded her letter-bars for all four years of competition during her years at CHS.
Spitzer said CHS staff always asked how she did after competitions and recognized her accomplishments along with other sport reports in the morning announcements.
"My teachers were always supportive and understanding," she said. "Really good about making sure I had all my assignments for my days away from school.
She also gives a lot of credit to her classmates.
"We are all so close and everyone is supportive of each other. It is very nice."
Last April, CHS athletic director, Greg Adams asked Spitzer's coach, Sara Halverson, a 1997 CHS graduate, why Maddie should letter, and the answer was simple:
"20 hours a week at practice and she maintains a 4.0."
"If she would take all her medals to school, they would be blown away," her coach said.
Spitzer said she was proud to represent Colton at gymnastics meets.
As Colton High School is the first Oregon school to take the initiative to award its students for their dedication to a club sport, Klein said he would take the criteria instituted by CHS to other districts as an model for school recognition of athletes who compete in sports not sanctioned by OSAA.
"I really appreciate what the school has done," she said. "It has been a great experience to be recognized by my school for my athletic commitment."
Spitzer will attend Portland State University, where she plans to pursue a degree in business.
She will not be continuing as a competitive gymnast, but hopes to join a coaching staff and share her love of the sport.