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Future of gymnastics not yet decided at Parishville-Hopkinton

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PARISHVILLE - Just as Superintendent Darin P. Saiff was about to tell Parishville-Hopkinton Board of Education members there were no certified coaching candidates available to lead the district’s gymnastic program, Darcy MacNeill stepped up and said, “I am certified now.”

Paying for the certification out of her own pocket, Ms. MacNeill said she has taken and passed both the fundamentals of gymnastics and safety and risk management classes offered through USA Gymnastics.

“I know there are requirements through Section 10,” Ms. MacNeill said, adding she’s willing to take and complete whatever additional classes are necessary to keep the program alive.

“I really, really want to keep the program going for the kids,” she said, adding she put certification classes on hold since she was under the impression the district wouldn’t be bringing the program back.

“There was more support for the program from the community than I thought there would be,” she said, explaining that after seeing that support she decided to begin taking certification classes.

The program’s former coach, Ann M. Krueger-Harmon Burrows, retired last year, but Ms. MacNeill said she’s offered her support to keep the program, which she led for more than 30 years in the district.

“Mrs. Harmon-Burrows will be back in March, and she’s offered to help,” Ms. MacNeill said, noting that last year’s gymnastics season didn’t start until March so it’s not too late to have a program for this year.

“I’ve been doing gymnastics since 1992. That’s 20 years,” she said. “I’ve taught gymnastics to elementary students here and directed a semester at Potsdam State.”

At SUNY Potsdam, Ms. MacNeill said she led a gymnastics program for students from pre-school through the age of 13 or 14.

“If it’s a possibility, I’ll do what I have to do,” she said. “I don’t care about the cost out of my pocket. I’ll do whatever I have to do for the kids.”

Jane James has volunteered with the district’s gymnastics program and seen the impact it can have on a student’s life.

“We had one boy who when the season started was in a little shell,” she said, adding by the end of the year he had broken out of that shell and was laughing and socializing with other students.

“His mom said, ‘We really hope they keep it going, because it’s the only sport that he likes.’”

Heather Liebfred, the mother of another student, noted gymnastics is the only sport her daughter can play.

“She has a medical condition that prevents her from playing contact sports. That includes softball,” Ms. Liebfred said, adding her daughter’s doctor actually recommended gymnastics as an option for her.

“Her cardiologist recommends she stays active by doing things like gymnastics or dance,” she said. “When she heard the program wasn’t coming back, it broke her heart. She cried for days.”

While Ms. Liebfred’s daughter is currently in the fifth grade and would be unable to participate this year under the model proposed by Ms. MacNeill, she said the very existence of a program in the district would be a positive for her daughter.

“Even if you only bring it back for high school students, it gives her something to look forward to,” Ms. Liebfred said.

Should the board agree to bring back gymnastics, Ms. MacNeill said it’s her intention to have the program open to students in grades 7-12.

“What I would like to do is just high school students this year to see how it goes,” she said. “I don’t want to take too much on in my first year.”

Board of education member Frederick S. Wilhelm said he wanted to know what the board needed to do to bring the program back.

Board President Ward H. Remington said he would like to see the board take another month to think about it before voting on whether to bring it back at next month’s meeting.

“I’ll take this information and we have to look at it. This is all new information to us,” he said, referring to the existence of a certified coach for the program. “I don’t think it’s fair to Darcie, the children, the board or the district to make a rash decision.”

Mr. Saiff said, despite having a certified coach step forward, he still has some reservations about bringing the program back.

“I still do have some reservations in regards to the possibility of injury,” he said.

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