In Bittersweet Home Opener, UIC Looks Back and Ahead

On Sunday evening, UIC won its home-opening quad meet with a 194.200, outpacing Kent State (191.250), UW-Oshkosh (185.750) and Centenary College (181.800). This comes after week one when the team put up a 193.925. It is the Flames best start since at least the 1990s.

Sunday’s meet wasn’t wholly celebratory though. Before march-in started, program alumni filed in. One by one they hugged co-head coach Peter Jansson and received a rose before walking onto the floor. The lights were dim, and “I Will Remember You” played softly.

The moment was deeply sad. The crowd surveyed decades of gymnasts who came through a program that is in its last year, unless it can come up with a massive amount of money.

“We all cried,” sophomore Kayla Baddeley said of the Friday morning the team learned their program was going to be dropped.

Jansson says the team started to get emails from the athletic office early that morning. “They had to go to class after,” he added, shaking his head. He, and the rest of the staff, got an email the night before, telling them to be in the athletic office for a meeting at 7:30 the next morning—the meeting in which they learned their fate. Co-head coach Mary Jansson couldn’t talk about it, saying she didn’t want to cry.

How does a team going through so much have such a historic first two weeks? “I didn’t have to motivate them at all,” Peter Jansson said. The team grew closer from the experience, and it has made them better.

The support from the gymnastics community doesn’t hurt either. “There have been so many hits on social media,” Jansson said. He and Baddeley emphasized that the team sees and feels the support, and they appreciate it.

UIC’s athletes, assuming they qualify, will get one final celebratory meet at the USAG championships in Bridgeport, Connecticut, this April. Jansson said the team has been eligible to compete for a few years but never had the money to attend the additional competition.

This year, the team fundraised. “We wanted them to have that last team competition,” he said. Jansson is a tall, soft spoken man who speaks with care. He lit up talking about the opportunity the team has, to have one final team competition in such an exciting atmosphere.

He also pointed out that two of the team members are from the east coast, and this will be UIC’s only meet in that part of the country. Baddeley, from Massachusetts, is one of those gymnasts. “My parents will be there; it’s exciting,” she said.

UIC currently leads USAG rankings, and sits at No. 35 nationally.

It is all bittersweet though. “I’ve been a gymnast my whole life,” Baddeley said, fighting back tears. “It’s part of who I am, but it might be over.”

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Article by Emily Minehart

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