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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
Review: “The Watchers”
Published June 13, 2024

Men’s gymnastics club forced out of home gym

Men’s gymnastics practiced in Cooke Hall for nearly 90 years.
Image by Pooja Singh
Minnesota Men’s Gymnastics Head Coach Mike Burns starts to clean up the team’s practice gym, which has been their home for over 30 years. Uncertainty looms about where they’ll go next.

The University of Minnesota men’s gymnastics club began moving out of their home gym in Cooke Hall on May 31, less than a month after winning a national title. 

The University’s Planning, Space and Real Estate (PRSE) service surveyed the team’s home on the third floor of Cooke Hall after several organizations requested to use the space, according to Regent Mary Turner.

PRSE recommended to Interim President Ettinger that the facility be used for the University’s diving team, kinesiology program and RecWell activities. Ettinger adopted PRSE’s recommendation leaving head gymnastics coach Mike Burns and his 23 athletes scrambling for a new home.

The team used Cooke Hall long before the Board of Regents voted to eliminate its Division I status in 2020. Since then, the group joined the Gymnastics Association of College Teams (GymACT).

The club’s athletes were vocal about being forced out. Team captain Kellen Ryan was part of the first freshman class after the discontinuation of their Division I status.

The Board denied Ryan’s request to speak on behalf of the team at their meeting on June 14. Parents showed their support by contacting the Board in hopes of having the moving decision reversed.

Burns said the team is pushing for an on-campus practice location even if it means sharing the space with another group. 

“Something magical happens in this space,” Burns said about Cooke Hall. “It’s sad we can’t find a way to coexist.”

Regent chair Janie Mayeron stated in an email obtained by the Minnesota Daily that the team cannot share Cooke Hall with the other groups because their equipment “cannot reasonably and safely be set up and taken down between each practice.” 

Mayeron then reaffirmed her denial of Ryan’s request to speak to the Board.

“RecWell confirmed that no sports clubs have dedicated practice space,” Mayeron said. “Some sports clubs opt to practice off campus for convenience or because there are off-campus spaces more suitable to their sport.”

Mayeron said the University’s new $15.5 million facility dedicated to the women’s gymnastics team could not accommodate the men.

Sophomore Ben Letvin said the constant refusal from the Board to listen to the team is frustrating because “it’s their job to listen to the students.”

“We’re not going to let the University just kind of kill our dreams like that, even though they don’t really support us at all,” Letvin added.

Regent Turner said the team deserved to be heard in more ways than just emails or videos despite being told there would be no changes. 

Turner added the board should emulate city councils and allow the public to speak in short intervals while also becoming a University system known for listening to its community.

“You still need to let everyone know just what it means to you,” Turner said. “We go on and have meeting after meeting about mission, and our mission is to students.”

According to Burns, the team has until June 16 to move out or they face moving fines. The University has offered the Bell Museum as a place to store the team’s equipment.

The club has been successful since joining GymACT, finishing fourth in the nation in 2022 and 2023. 

With the adversity stacked against the team in finding a new home, Ryan was certain the team would continue to execute success. 

“It’ll be a difficult change,” Ryan said. “Ultimately it’s not going to tear down our program, which is good.”

As of June 7, the team has been practicing at Mini-Hops Gymnastics, where former Gopher and 2020 Olympic competitor Shane Wiskus trained. The team also practices at both Twin Cities Twisters locations. 

Burns’ crew has not found a permanent home and there is no agreement between their temporary training locations for long-term use as of June 7.

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  • BC
    Jun 10, 2024 at 9:49 pm

    Way to go Minnesota University Board of Regents. You continue to demonstrate great vision and leadership by defunding a legendary program and coaching staff that produced Olympians, kicking your own student athletes out of a historic practice facility, and giving them no voice in the process. Bravo. Smh

  • P Nicholas
    Jun 10, 2024 at 2:15 pm

    Unfortunately the University of Minnesota doesn’t care about the men’s gymnastics team. They have more than enough money to find a better space on campus as well as move all the equipment. But they refuse. It will take a large university alumni donor to threaten to withhold their donations before they take anyone seriously. The team has had to endure a lot mentally and physically with no help from the U. Sickening really.

  • Clay
    Jun 10, 2024 at 11:45 am

    After House vs NCAA, the U of MN should be supporting its self funded, student lead sports clubs. It’s the future of non revenue and Olympic sports in the collegiate realm.

  • Kerri Strahlman
    Jun 10, 2024 at 11:28 am

    It is tragic that the university will not hear what these amazing student athletes have to say. These student athletes should be supported and heard. Any university should be proud to have such representation. It is truly tragic how little respect the board has for these athletes.

  • Dennis Ryan
    Jun 10, 2024 at 10:59 am

    The U has repeatedly relayed an extremely misleading talking point that…”no sports clubs have dedicated practice space.” You have to read the fine print to realize they mean exclusive (to no other use) dedicated practice space. If you check the Club list on the U’s website, virtually all the clubs utilize U facilities for not only practice but games as well. As an example, Fencing lists Cooke 308 as their home. The Badminton Club, before it was apparently disbanded in fall 2022, listed Cooke 325 as their home. When Club Hockey practices at dedicated U facilities and puts out a 4 month schedule of 45 games with 1/2 home games, apparently that does not meet their definition of “dedicated”. One would think the fact they eliminated the Men’s NCAA program and therefore no longer need a facility for that team be a reason for having a place for the GymACT and Club teams rather than not providing them space. Especially, when the facility is already in place and used for gymnastics since the building was built in the 30’s.

  • Jaime
    Jun 10, 2024 at 9:50 am

    It’s both sad and frustrating that the university is not helping this team try and find a solution. I hope someone in the community will step up and help.

  • Michelle Pennell
    Jun 10, 2024 at 9:08 am

    This team is a class act! Determination, perseverance, incredible talent and a great asset to the university, as evidenced by their national title. It is hard to understand why they have been singled out as the only athletic club to need to move off of campus.

  • Michael Smollin
    Jun 10, 2024 at 8:55 am

    This team should have a voice. Please President Cunningham, it’s time to sit down with the team and discuss the issues. Men’s Gymnastics is an important part of these student athletes, and a 130 year old program at the U. These athletes have worked so hard and deserve the U’s recognition and respect.

  • Pam
    Jun 10, 2024 at 7:17 am

    Regent Turner is right, even if it won’t change anything, the Board should let students, and the public in general, speak at their meetings. Listening, even if the decision will stand unchanged, shows respect.