Interest in gymnastics grows at Decatur


Freshman Mei McNally (bottom second to the left) and sophomore Morgan Pope (top second to he right) pose with their old gymnastics team with their old team from the Atlanta Gymnastics Center.

Decatur High School is home to many athletes. However, not all athletes are given the opportunity to represent their school. Many students have grown up participating in gymnastics, but as they grew up, it became difficult to find a suitable team, seeing as Decatur High School does not have a gymnastics team or club.

Robert Pope, past chairperson of the Booster Club, wanted to give these students an opportunity to compete for their school.

“I watched several girls who were gymnasts and went to Decatur High not be able to do gymnastics because there is no team,” Pope said.

In past years, no one has confronted the school about creating a gymnastics team. Pope believes this was because the Atlanta Gymnastics Center was a popular gym in Decatur.

In January 2017, the gym closed down and many athletes no longer had access to a gym close to home. If the gymnasts wanted to continue competing, they had to find a new gym outside of Decatur. Numerous students from Decatur High School found a new gym, including freshman Mei McNally. After the Atlanta Gymnastics Center closed down, she had a difficult time finding a new gym.

“My whole team moved to a new gym 45 minutes away,” McNally said. “This gym, Top Notch, was too far and I just didn’t like the coaching style of the coaches that were already at the gym.”

Last school year, Pope appeared in front of Decatur High School’s athletics director, Rodney Thomas, and proposed the idea of a gymnastics team. He had about 30 people show interest in the team and even had faculty members offer to sponsor the team. During the meetings, Pope and the school board discussed the logistics of having a school team, such as the funding, facilities, equipment and coaches needed to create and sustain one. School board members were interested in the team; however, they were uncertain how the school could afford to create one.

“[The athletics department] made a decision last year that, even though there was interest, they weren’t prepared as a school system to take on gymnastics,” Pope said.

Although the school is not prepared for a team, Pope still believes that gymnastics can become a part of the school. He plans to go to another board meeting to discuss the idea of a gymnastics club, as opposed to an official Georgia High School Association (GHSA) team.

McNally (third down on the left) and Morgan (third down on the right) with their old gymnastics team from the Atlanta Gymnastics Center.

He and many others believe creating a gymnastics club is an important step in integrating gymnastics into the school system. The club would choose a gym that they believe would best fit the club’s needs.

The club would not be able to officially compete against other GHSA schools, but they would be allowed to compete in scrimmages with other organizations.

The club would be similar to competing with a gym, but it would give Decatur students the opportunity to practice with their friends from school rather than people from all over Atlanta. According to Pope, gymnastics is an intense sport that takes hours of practice year round, leaving students with limited time to spend with others from their school.

“If you’re spending 10 hours a week on the road and 20 hours a week in the gym plus high school,” Pope said, “there’s no time to go on a date, or go to homecoming, or go to Friday night football or to join a club or hangout after school.”

Pope believes the club will allow students to continue competing in gymnastics without having to sacrifice their social life.

Pope’s daughter, sophomore Morgan Pope, also understands that a team or club would let students make new friends because a school sport is a social event of its own.

“I would join the club because I think it’s a good idea for girls to be able to have their own club to work together and build friendships,” Morgan said.

 Other students, like McNally, have already shown interest in and support for Pope’s initiative.

“I think the school needs a team, and I think it would be pretty popular,” McNally said.

Right now, Pope is trying to create a gymnastics club in the spring or next school year. However, he still thinks the school could have a team in the future.

“If we can get a club going and sustain it for a couple of years,” he said, “then the high school will support us having a team.”