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Mon, Jan. 27

Gymnasts face long odds in competition for college scholarships

KINGMAN - Mary Lou Retton, Kerri Strug and Gabby Douglas are Olympic gymnastic stars who have graced cereal boxes after winning the hearts of Americans. They are just a few of the ultimate success stories, but the world of gymnastics isn't all the glitz and glamour portrayed when the Olympic season rolls around.

The dream of almost every girl who begins the journey into competitive gymnastics is to become an Olympian. USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for the sport, states on its website that "the ultimate goal in the sport is to become a USA National Gymnastics Team member."

That ultimate goal often is unmet.

"I was in the fifth grade when I realized it wasn't going to happen," said local gymnast Sydney Tribbett, 18. "So now it's college."

Tribbett has a spot on the Hamline University gymnastics team, an NCAA Division III school in St. Paul, Minn. As a D-III school, Hamline does not offer athletic scholarships. Tribbett has been awarded an academic scholarship, which may be better because as long as she succeeds academically, she'll continue to have her education funded. She won't have to worry that losing her spot on the squad or perhaps suffering an injury would end her academic career.

Almost elite

Tribbett, her sister Maddy, 14, Briana Mecom, 18, and Brooke McFarland, 15, are all Level 10s in gymnastics. That's just one level shy of Elite, where Olympic and world team members are chosen. Combined, the four girls have put in 55 years into gymnastics and getting just one gymnastic scholarship for the group may not occur.

"This sport is so hard because it is so competitive," said Hamline gymnastics coach Doug Byrnes. "They experience failure and fear regularly, but at the same time they're experiencing exhilaration and excitement.

"It's remarkable the effort that needs to be put in, and then at the end they most likely won't get a scholarship."

Byrnes is entering his 15th season at Hamline and he's seen many excellent gymnasts fall short of being awarded an athletic scholarship.

"If someone does get one - they're top shelf," he said. "There are a number who aren't quite there. There are D-I, D-II and D-III girls who are walking on without scholarships. They are very, very talented but just not as talented as D-I scholarship girls. It's just like football."

By the numbers

Nationally, there are 64 D-I programs offering 744 scholarships and five D-II programs offering 42 scholarships. That's it. On average, approximately 186 scholarships are available on a yearly basis. USA Gymnastics' latest report states there are 73,839 female gymnasts in all levels of competition.

The College Gym Fans database reported in April that 63 gymnasts who are a part of the class of 2016 have already verbally committed to college programs.

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