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Minnesota’s Men’s Gymnastics vaults over adversity in dominant season

Minnesota Men’s Gymnastics is ranked number one in the nation in every event but was recently told their program has to find a new location to practice.
Image by Minnesota Men’s Gymnastics (courtesy)
Conference and national meets are approaching at the end of April and the middle of May.

Over the last half-decade, Minnesota men’s gymnastics has dealt with its share of adversity while managing to persevere. 

Four years ago, Gopher men’s gymnastics was discontinued as a Division I program along with two other teams due to financial difficulties from the COVID-19 pandemic. A year later, it was revived as a University club. 

In February, the team received a notice from University Services informing them their facility on the third floor of Cooke Hall could be reallocated to another program. Two weeks ago, the team was informed of an approved plan to renovate the facility and allocate it elsewhere.

After nearly 90 years in the historic, chalk-covered facility in Cooke Hall, men’s gymnastics will have to find a new home. All the while, the team has been training to compete in the upcoming national competition in May.

Head coach Mike Burns said he has no timeline for when the team will be removed from Cooke Hall. 

Burns held a meeting with the team to discuss the decision. Instead of having his team concerned for their future, Burns told the athletes to worry about two things: their academics and gymnastics. 

“From that meeting, we’ve had the most amazing training week thus far,” Burns said.

Minnesota men’s gymnastics is the top team in the Gymnastics Association of College Teams (GymACT) and ranks first in every competition event category.

The team’s status as a top program is fostered in a facility Burns described as “probably the smallest and least adequate one in the world.”

“We know we can make it work because we’re good at what we do,” Burns said. 

The team received the news of their relocation around the same time as they were approved to upgrade from a Registered Student Organization to a Campus Life Program. This upgrade allows the team to become a competitive club program under the University’s Recreation and Wellness Center. 

Since men’s gymnastics is not a varsity team at the University, they must list a student as president of the club. Junior and team captain Kellen Ryan took that position.

“He’s a leader by example and a leader by what he does in terms of managing his team,” Burns said.

On top of being team captain and president, Ryan is a civil engineering major. He’s ranked first in GymACT in vault and all-around. 

Ryan said every member’s dedication and hard work toward the same goal has helped their team succeed.

“At the beginning of the year, we sat down and we had the goal of winning the national championship,” Ryan said. “I think everybody here wants it so bad that we’re working so hard for it.”

Minnesota men’s gymnastics has no seniors this season, so Ryan is in the oldest class on the team.

Ryan said it can be discouraging to see the difference between their facility and those of other teams in their conference, but he thinks Minnesota uses its limited space well.

“I always compare Cooke Hall to a broom closet,” Ryan said.

To manage the heavy workload of being both a student and an athlete, Ryan said team members eat at the dining halls and complete homework together after practices. 

Burns said the team runs fundraisers and receives support from alumni to keep the program functioning. The athletes physically set up meets and also host meets, which helps Minnesota men’s gymnastics make money to fund their own endeavors including their trip to Florida for nationals. 

Burns himself has sacrificed a lot, as he works as a volunteer coach since the program is not funded by the University. His unpaid coaching led him to take on extra jobs, such as driving for Uber, to support the team.

Owen Frank, a sophomore team captain, said he admires Burns’ fight to keep Minnesota men’s gymnastics functioning.

“The world needs more people who have that sort of tenacity,” Frank said.

Frank said meeting Burns on his recruitment trip helped him decide to attend Minnesota over Iowa.

“The reason I came here was because of Mike Burns,” Frank said. “He’s an amazing person.”

The program nearly doubled in size this year, adding 15 new members over the summer. Frank said the increase has created more competition within the team to improve.

“You can only bring 15 guys to a competition,” Frank said. “Now that our roster exceeds 15 people, there’s people who are fighting for those roster spots.”

Burns said regardless of the outcome with the team’s facility, he will find a way to keep the program running.

“I’ve been here almost 20 years now and this is my home,” Burns said. “No matter who’s trying to make me go away, I ain’t going anywhere.”

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  • Lisa
    Apr 27, 2024 at 7:33 am

    Please send this story to KARE 11. I think this should be on the news. And maybe someone would help support these young athletes and their coach. What brave and tenacious people. I hope this team has continued success and reestablishes support from the university. This is a great story!