Long Island University (LIU) Looks Ahead to 20-21

 “Those women are going to be part of history. I think the first team at LIU will hopefully understand 10 years or 20 years from now that they were pioneers in something so much greater than them.” Randy Lane, Collegiate Gymnastics Growth Initiative (CGGI)

Photo/Graphic by Long Island University

LIU Looks Ahead to a Bright Future – A Future That Includes Gymnastics

By Jessica Taylor Price

When news broke that Long Island University would be adding a women’s gymnastics program for the 2020-21 season, it seemed to come out of nowhere.

“We are thrilled to be adding women’s gymnastics to our Shark family,” said LIU Athletics Director Dr. William E. Martinov, Jr. in a March 5 press release. From the looks of it, LIU had already hit the ground running, announcing that the Division I school would compete under the EAGL conference, that a search for a head coach would “begin immediately,” and that interested gymnasts should fill out a questionnaire in order to be considered.

But for Randy Lane, this news was anything but sudden. In fact, the head of the Collegiate Gymnastics Growth Initiative (CGGI)—a subset of the Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association (WCGA) that Lane spearheaded in 2007—and former UCLA coach had been working hard for years for something like this to happen. As part of his duties, he develops relationships with athletic directors at colleges and universities around the country, traveling to their schools and making presentations encouraging them to add college gymnastics to their athletic program.

It’s a tough job—up until now, Lindenwood had been the CGGI’s sole add, in 2013—but for Lane, moments like these make it all worth it. “It was a sigh of relief that the hard work we had done had finally paid off,” he said. “All I want to do is scream with excitement!” 

It all started with a January phone call: George Washington University gymnastics head coach Margie Foster-Cunningham had been in contact with Martinov, himself a former gymnast who was interested in following GWU’s college gymnastics model. Foster-Cunningham knew that if anyone could help Martinov, it would be Lane. After hearing from Foster-Cunningham, Lane flew to New York to give a presentation to Martinov about the sport. From there, things happened quickly. “I came back from Long Island on Wednesday night after the presentation with them and got a text message at 5:30 in the morning from the AD,” Lane said. “He said, ‘we’re going.’” The process of adding the program, from the first phone call to the announcement in March, took just two months. “I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone sometimes,” Lane says. “I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. This happened too quickly, and too easily.’”

Lane and WCGA president Kerrie McKinney Turner credit Martinov’s appreciation for the sport as a main reason for the quick turnaround. “They were really motivated and excited to add sports,” Turner said. “I think that helped us in a lot of ways to catapult this quicker.” The availability of athletes was another factor: While Martinov originally planned to launch the program in the 2021-22 season, Lane told him he could get a team together this fall and have 12-15 athletes. “Once he heard that, he was even more excited to get the program started,” said Lane.

Next, the CGGI will be on hand to help LIU work out the gritty details. The school will need to find a head coach first, and then figure out how to delve out the 12 full scholarships. Like Lindenwood and George Washington University’s teams, LIU gymnasts will train at a nearby club gym and then use on-campus facilities for home meets. 

As far as finding the actual athletes, Lane says it will not be difficult. According to him, there are 179 gymnastics clubs on Long Island alone, and over 53,000 kids participating in gymnastics there. LIU will have a large pool of prospects to choose from, including high school seniors from these clubs who haven’t yet signed on to a team, walk-ons at other schools, and scholarship athletes interested in transferring. Turner also points out that LIU is in an NCAA dead zone geographically. “There’s kind of a gap between UNH and some of the other programs,” she says. “I feel like LIU is a perfect fit for that conference and filling that geographic region.”

There has already been a ton of interest, according to Lane, who says many gymnasts have already filled out the questionnaire. And while this is a great opportunity for interested athletes, it also comes with great responsibility. “There’s going to come a lot of pressure with it, with being the first team,” says Lane. Along with their coach, they’ll be charged with establishing a culture for the program, including traditions that make each team unique. But for Lane, the reward will be great: “Those women are going to be part of history,” he says. “I think the first team at LIU will hopefully understand 10 years or 20 years from now that they were pioneers in something so much greater than them.”

This doesn’t mean the work of the CGGI is done, however. Far from it: “I’m not one to rest on the laurels of what we’ve accomplished,” says Lane. He’s already started forwarding the news to athletic directors in other schools around the country (yes, Texas included). Lane and Turner want those schools to know that adding women’s gymnastics is possible, and that the WCGA is there to help. The CGGI helps schools understand they can mirror the model GWU, Lindenwood, and LIU have used to start teams – where a club gym is used as a training facility to help offset costs. They can give schools seed money, and help them connect with companies that can give them free or discounted equipment and apparel.

That’s part of how Lane says the impact of LIU’s team will “trickle down” to the rest of the gymnastics community. It will help gymnastics companies continue to develop their brands. It will create more opportunities for young women to participate at the college level, encouraging more girls to stay in the sport. Moreover, “it’s giving people hope,” Lane says. It’s also great news for the CGGI. “I just want the gymnastics community to really believe in what the CGGI is doing,” Turner says. “And to see it come to fruition… it shows everyone it’s worth the donations we’re getting to fund these trips to campuses.” 

Now, Turner and Lane are excited for what the future holds. They’re excited to potentially attend the first home meet. They’re excited to see @LIUGymnastics take off, to see the first recruit announced, and to see their hard work pay off.

But what they’re most happy about is what this means for the gymnasts. “It’s exciting for us,” says Turner. “But what’s so exciting is knowing that there is a gymnast out there looking for a school right now who’s going to get their opportunity, and that is what it is all about. It just fills me with joy.”

See the March/April issue of Inside Gymnastics for more on the Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association (WCGA) and Collegiate Gymnastics Growth Initiative (CGGI).

 

Subscribe to Inside Gymnastics magazine in 2020! Click Here!