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Red River Valley Gymnastics closes cheer team program

The abrupt closing of the competitive cheer program at Red River Valley Gymnastics last week has left parents upset and frustrated. Parents were notified by email in late March that the program would be closing because the board was unable to rec...

The abrupt closing of the competitive cheer program at Red River Valley Gymnastics last week has left parents upset and frustrated.
Parents were notified by email in late March that the program would be closing because the board was unable to recruit a qualified coach to replace the head coach who was leaving.

A meeting is set for 7:45 p.m. Wednesday in the upper level of the RRVG for parents to ask questions and get more information about what happened and why.

The RRVG competitive cheer program enrolls about 50 children who range in age from 3 to 15 and are divided, according to age, into four teams.

"Two of our teams had earned a place at a national All Stars Cheer competition April 21 in Chicago," said Dara Omang, whose 9-year-old daughter is in her second year on the cheer team.

About 20 older cheer team members were planning to attend, but were informed they would not be going, Omang said.


"This is a big part of their lives," she said. "It's devastating for them."

The decision to close the program is due to staff issues, not finances, said Greg Litz, a member of the RRVG board of directors.

Litz, who is serving a three-year term as treasurer on the board, said Saturday was the program's last day.

"The head coach has chosen to move away," Litz said. "She moved out of state Sunday."

Board members decided to end the cheer program because of lack of adequate staff and the need to maintain "the safety of our teams," Litz said.

It's important "to have a qualified coach who knows the routines and how to do them safely, and can talk (athletes) through the routines," he said.

The coaching position was advertised on the RRVG website for two months and possibly its Facebook page, Litz said.

"We haven't received any qualified applicants," he said.


Board members and others reached out to other clubs in the Dakotas to see if they could recommend cheer coaches who might want to relocate to Grand Forks, Litz said.

Omang and other parents said there were experienced applicants who should have been considered, including one who was in training and offered to coach without charge.

She said the board knew in December the head coach, Kendra Zimmerman, was planning to leave in the spring but did little to try to recruit her replacement.

"They advertised on their Facebook page once," she said.

Liza Clough, whose daughter is a cheer team member, was critical of the timing of the closure announcement, just before the teams' showcase event Saturday for family and friends.

"Parents were shocked, basically," she said. "It felt like a sucker punch. It was like saying to the kids, 'Perform one last time, and smile and look happy.' "

The cheer team at RRVG "is smaller; it's a pretty new program," Clough said. "We were kind of surprised to get the bid (to compete at the national event). We were going to do what we needed to do to get there."

The cheer parents had raised more than $5,000 in private donations toward making the trip a reality, she said.


Unlikely to re-start

Litz is not sure whether the competitive cheer program will restart later at RRVG, but the organization is not looking for a head coach, he said.

The board made the decision to close the program at this time, rather than hold out the possibility it might continue, so athletes would not miss the chance to try out for other programs, Litz said.

The decision "was a difficult one because it does affect so many people," he said.

"We had a very successful year, a great year; we had great coaches," said Omang. "It's hard to lose a program that's doing well, and you see tryouts postponed, it's a hard pill to swallow."

"(The board) didn't try to keep it going, and that's sad."

Cheer team members who've been practicing for months in preparation for the national competition include Carol Hagen's 14-year-old daughter.

"We've been in tears several times over it," Hagen said.


The board and staff members "are not answering very many questions," Hagen said.

Litz said he hopes Wednesday's meeting will provide "clarity" for parents and "answers for questions we have around the gym."

For those athletes who've been involved in the program, he said, "We wish the kids the best success they can find."

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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