SARATOGA SPRINGS — Zander Hudak and Adam O’Connor spent a year on the Saratoga Springs High School Varsity Gymnastics team where they were able to be a part of a team that was dedicated to their passion. After trying out and making the team this season they were eager to begin another year of honing their skills and making new memories with their teammates.
They attended the start of the season informational meeting and were excited for what they expected to be their first practice of their second varsity season. But before they set foot on the mat to train, the boys and their parents were informed that they could no longer practice with the rest of the team.
While at the Olympic level there are gymnastics teams for both men and women Saratoga Springs High School (SSHS) only has a varsity team for girls. SSHS is a Section 2 Division school and the Section 2 league does not allow for mixed gendered competition for the sports of volleyball and gymnastics, which means that the boys are not able to compete during official meets. There is a boys’ volleyball team at the high school; however, there is not one for gymnastics – which leaves both Zander and Adam without a team to join alongside their fellow Blue Streaks.
Not being able to compete was not new information to Zander, Adam or their parents. While not ideal, the boys were still more than happy to attend practice and develop their skills with their peers.
“I didn’t really think much of it (not competing for points). I was just glad that we could practice at least,” said Zander Hudak.
“It was devastating,” said Jamie Hudak, Zander’s mother. “He came out almost at the same time (she got the call) - with the text message (from his teammates). So, he already knew as I had just heard this voicemail. It sucks. I don’t know how else to describe it really. It’s just awful on every level. It’s emotional, it’s sad, it’s unfair.”
This past summer, a group of gymnastics coaches and athletic administrators met with officials from Section 2 to discuss amending the Section 2 rules to allow for mixed gendered competition in gymnastics. The majority vote decided against it.
Meanwhile, that summer the two boys were invited to register and enroll in an off campus summer camp instructed by SSHS varsity coach Deborah Smarro at World Class Gymnastics. There the boys continued to train alongside their teammates, and the excitement for the upcoming season grew.
That fall the parents learned that since their sons couldn’t compete as sharing practice spaces with the competing members of the team would be a liability – therefore, the boys can’t practice with the girl’s gymnastics team.
“I guess my thing was, why weren’t they a liability last year,” said Lisa O’connor, Adam’s mother. “They paid the dues that the team had to pay to be on the booster club and they did everything that the team did, except when it came to competitions the two boys sat up, sat and watched and helped them clean up. They were okay with just practicing. But now, it’s a whole different story.”
In July 2019, Nicholas McPartland stepped into the role as the new Athletic Director for SSHS.
“When Coach Smarro brought the whole scenario to my attention, I think last year she was comfortable bringing them as members of the team,” said McPartland. “Now that things haven’t changed at the section 2 level, (she) feels as though she’s no longer comfortable because that rule hasn’t changed... even if she was in support of those kids training, as the athletic administrator I couldn’t support that decision.”
To McPartland’s understanding, the boys were offered to be the team’s managers, as there isn’t a place on the SSHS varsity team for them to train at this time. McPartland stated that he is in support of having a boy’s gymnastics team, should there be enough interest.
“What I suggested to them was through World Class, was to start having conversations with other families, that are members of other school districts and if there are in the districts that offer gymnastics teams, start finding out if there are other boys in other districts that have a gymnastics team,” said McPartland. “I think that would encourage more conversation and I think that might generate a shift in the policy.”
The parents are willing to explore all possible avenues and navigate the system to appeal to Section 2 in favor of mixed gendered gymnastics. In the meantime, they hope to accomplish the primary goal, “To get them back to practicing and members of the team, minus competition,” said Hudak.
*Saratoga TODAY reached out to Coach Smarro for a comment. Coach Smaro said she was not at liberty to speak on the matter and instead deferred all questions to Athletic Director Nick McPartland.*