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Regent Turner compares men’s gymnastics advocacy to Gaza protesters

Several emails and pleas for help landed the men’s team a booth at the USA Gymnastics National Congress and Trade Show.
Image by Pooja Singh
Gymnastics chalk spelled out a message on a bulletin board in Cooke Hall on June 5.

Ever since the University of Minnesota men’s gymnastics team was forced out of their home gym in Cooke Hall, head coach Mike Burns and his crew started advocating.

Burns, gymnasts and parents sent several emails to the University’s Board of Regents. The men’s gymnastics team submitted a video to the Board for their June 14 meeting which was not reviewed or discussed publicly, but Regent Farnsworth said the Board surveyed it.

According to Regent Mary Turner, the emails, videos and requests to local media to share their story was a vastly different approach than the multitude of students who protested the University’s handling of the war in Gaza, which involved camping out on the Northrop lawn.

Few people outside the men’s gymnastics community were as vocal as Turner, who was the only regent to stand alongside them at their booth when the team explained their situation at the USA Gymnastics National Congress and Trade Show.

“All they needed was to be heard,” Turner said. “It would have been closure.” 

Turner, with tears in her eyes, told rising junior gymnast Justin Lancisi how proud she was of the team in their respectful approach to the Board.

“You guys did everything right,” Turner said. “You didn’t camp out, you went through (Regent Chair) Janie Mayeron to ask permission, you did everything respectfully and they just showed you’re just going to be a student that gets brushed under the rug.” 

Turner said people associated with Israel and Palestine student groups are getting bi-weekly meetings with administrators, yet the gymnasts have had no in-person contact with the board. 

Turner told Lancisi the team should consider taking a more vocal approach, similar to the Israel and Palestine protesters, and create a “ruckus” by barging into a board meeting to speak to them directly.

“Maybe the people in tents have the right idea?” Turner said. “I know they do when you’re not being heard.”

The Minnesota Daily requested a statement from Mayeron via an email sent to University Spokesperson Jake Ricker on June 26. 

The Daily was met with a response from Ricker the next day including a statement, over two months old, in which Mayeron declined to speak with the team.

Burns said those who saw the booth were shocked at the Board’s handling of the situation. Several emails from parents to the Board were ignored. The few responses explained the Board’s procedures on virtual forum comments. 

Three years ago, the Minnesota men’s gymnastics team was dropped as a Division I program and as of June 29, 95% of the team’s gym equipment is stored in a trailer, while the rest is stored in the Bell Museum, according to Burns. 

Lancisi is not entirely sure what the future will look like for the team. 

“It’s going to be very hard to maintain championship status,” Lancisi said. “One of the biggest ways we could sell the program was you could walk five minutes from your class to practice.”

Despite the Board’s refusal to listen, others have. On June 23, Inside Gymnastics Magazine ranked it as the No. 4 item getting the gymnastics community “buzzing.”

Joey Ray was part of the team from 1981 to 1984. He was awarded membership to the University’s letterwinner organization — M Club — in 2015. During his time with the Gophers men’s gymnastics team, he won six individual Big Ten titles. 

Now, he does not feel like a Gopher. 

“I can’t even wear my letterman jacket to rake leaves,” Ray said. 

One gymnast parent Sheri Taylor said the consensus among the parents is that they want their boys to be heard, even if nothing changes. Taylor said the goal of attending the trade show was to get the word out and garner support to help the team find a new home. 

Dennis Ryan, the parent of the team’s co-captain Kellen Ryan, confirmed Taylor’s view. 

“If they get up there and speak for five minutes, whether that is going to change anything … they deserve a chance to tell their side of the story,” Ryan said. 

Ryan is frustrated that the board “won’t answer any questions.” 

He sent a list of questions to the Board which include:

  • Was there a consideration to repurpose Peik Hall for the GymACT and Club teams (rather than tear it down) after the Women’s NCAA team moves into their brand new $16 million facility?
  • Was there a consideration to convert Peik into a dryland diving facility so Cooke 302 could remain as the GymACT and Club team’s training facility?
  • Was there a consideration to incorporate dryland diving equipment into the new women’s gym?

There have been no answers to these questions as of July 8. 

The team’s efforts at the National Congress and Trade Show meant Burns missed out on watching his former athlete Shane Wiskus earn a spot on Team USA as an alternate gymnast.

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  • Yoel
    Jul 18, 2024 at 2:22 pm

    “Turner said people associated with Israel and Palestine student groups are getting bi-weekly meetings with administrators, yet the gymnasts have had no in-person contact with the board. ”
    Yes, people opposing an armed conflict that people are dying in will get more attention than people wanting better facilities for their sport. Some things are objectively more important than others and I am sure the gymnastics team would agree. The very fact that Turner compared the two is disgusting.

  • KG
    Jul 18, 2024 at 8:22 am

    Tricia, I think that you have mixed up substantially different issues. With regard to UMN investments, it is best that professional economists make those decisions (institutional neutrality) to maximize university income so that everyone at UMN (such as gymnasts) can have more money. Letting a gang of Hamas terrorist supporters, radical faculty, assorted bullies and fanatics make those decisions is a bad idea. Everyone would lose. That’s common sense. Anyway, your group hardly mustered 10% support for your poll question. You are loud, but very few agree with you.
    Now, with regard to the almost-hiring of Raz Segal as Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) director, UMN can obviously not be neutral with regard to whom it hires. It pays faculty members to do a specific job. If you were running an organization, would you hire someone who could not do the job? A CHGS advisory board member (not Jewish) described why Segal was inappropriate for the job: “We need a center director who will bring the community together … not someone who blames Israel for the rape and murder of 1,200 civilians, and kidnapping of hundreds more.” So, yes, the offer was rescinded, and it was the right thing to do.
    And since I am here, please tell Jack that the shooting out of Hillel’s windows on June 7 would not be considered peaceful (he seems to have confused peaceful and violent). Also, tell him that Jewish students are not masked cowards like the KKK or his terrorist-enabling pals, you know, his Hamas encampment friends. Jewish students have come forth for all to see and described in their own names the toxic campus environment. It’s all in the media and newspapers. It’s a matter of public record. Denial doesn’t work.

  • Tricia
    Jul 17, 2024 at 10:08 am

    Looking at the backlash to the student protests of late April we see the student athletes who “did it the right way” will likely get better results than the protesters. Ettinger, Cronson and now Cunningham have rescinded the job offer to Prof Raz Segal and are now contemplating an “institutional neutrality” policy with regard to how endowment is managed. These two actions show us that even if upper admin agrees to one thing one day, a few weeks or months later, they will do an about face.

    Jack is correct: KG and your 40 some upvotes have this whole thing confused and twisted.

  • Jack
    Jul 14, 2024 at 5:51 pm

    KG, none of what you said is true of the feelings of students on campus. No studies were interrupted, no one was harassed or harangued by anyone. The protests were in support of the Palestinian people and our Palestinian classmates during Israel’s genocidal campaign. The only non-peaceful demonstration came from the pro-Israel counter protesters, who were NOT students, yelling “sand [n-word]” and “terrorist” at students protesting their university’s position on genocide.

    And, to be clear, the war started in ‘48 when Israel ethnically cleansed Palestine, pushing Palestinians into the West Bank and a massive concentration camp on the Gaza Strip. Don’t get it twisted.

  • KG
    Jul 11, 2024 at 4:50 am

    Regent Turner’s pain is evident, and what he writes is true. The gymnasts did everything right, according to protocol, in a good cause, but no one bothered to listen. So, yes, go ahead and use all the tactics of the pro-Palestinian, Hamas-terrorist enablers. They disrupted studies, made all students uncomfortable, and especially intimidated pro-Israel students and Jews. Students who just wanted to continue with their academic studies were harangued by radical Palestinian professors, and Jews were forced to keep a low profile and hide their Jewish stars (a religious symbol). Those pro-terrorist faculty used the UMN podium, resources and UMN website to spread lies, sow dissension and empower bullies on campus. Encampments, abuse, disruption of normal studies, hounding and haranguing, numerous UMN building closures – all means were used to justify the Hamas-Palestinian terrorist agenda. And let’s not forget the attack and damaging of the UMN Hillel building.
    Be sure to invite SDS, antifa, anarchists, radical faculty and miscellaneous useful idiots from off-campus to fill out your ranks. It will make it seem that you have greater numbers than you really have. We saw the divestment resolution in March garnered barely 10% of the eligible voters. And look what those terrorist enablers accomplished two months later! UMN couldn’t even prepare an appropriate response to the Hamas bullies’ disruptions at graduation, even though there was plenty of advanced notice from what occurred at other universities. Zero accountability. So, gymnasts, go to it!

  • Jeff S.
    Jul 10, 2024 at 4:15 pm

    There are 354 Division I Men’s Basketball programs and TWELVE Division I Men’s Gymnastics programs in this country. And one year from now athletic departments are taking 20-22 million dollars out of their budgets to pay their athletes. The people behind this effort need to be working with USA Gymnastics on creating a new system for college-aged gymnasts.

  • Carrie
    Jul 9, 2024 at 3:01 pm

    These students need and deserve to be heard. None of these gymnasts however, have compared themselves or their story to the war in Gaza. They know the difference in the severity between the two.

  • Tricia
    Jul 9, 2024 at 7:32 am

    Regent Turner, perhaps the most unique Regent around, calling for the public to be heard. Please stick around and keep sticking up for the community, Regent Turner!

  • Michael Smollin
    Jul 8, 2024 at 10:10 pm

    The University should let these Athletes be heard! Gymnastics is an important part of Big Ten Sports, and the fact the University feels this Olympic Sport doesn’t need to be a part of the University is shameful. Even when Shane Wiskus just earned a spot on Team USA, and was the highlight of Minneapolis Olympic Trials, the University still wants to ignore their own Men’s Gymnasts who even won a National Title without there support. Where are the Regents? Where is the President?