Though they didn't know it at the time, the Minnetonka 1970-71 Girls' Gymnastics Team will forever be remembered as a team who broke barriers. Not only was the team the first competitive girls athletic team at Minnetonka, they were also formed a year before the enactment of Title IX, which prohibited gender discrimination in high school athletics and activities. In many ways, this team is an inspiration to female athletes everywhere, even today.
Prior to 1970, athletic opportunities for girls were extremely limited. A program called the Girls Athletic Association (GAA) allowed girls to play in a noncompetitive environment against other teams within their own district. The only other option, as well as the only way to earn a letter in sports, was to be a cheerleader at boys' football and basketball games.
This all began to change with the arrival of the class of 1973 at MHS. At both Minnetonka Junior Highs Schools in the late 60's, the physical education teachers formed gymnastics teams (GAA types). When those girls reached high school, they decided they deserved something more. They wanted to compete for real, and they wanted their classmates to cheer them on like they had for boys' athletics for so many years.
"We didn't think at all about making history," explains Kristen McDougall, '73. "We were just a group of young women who started sticking up for ourselves. We wanted what the boys had."
Kristen gave a presentation for the school board on behalf of the team proposing the idea for a high school-level competitive girls' gymnastics team. She was joined by a few other gymnasts including Kim (Griswold) Holmberg and Jody (Sheley) Schaak, who came together to meet with the school and hire a coach for their first season.
Meanwhile, Allie Cronk, the former coach for the GAA team at MME, had moved to Mercer Island, Washington with another teaching job. While there, she worked with the school to set up a girls' gymnastics program at Mercer Island that would allow the team to compete against others in the conference. When she returned to Minnetonka High School in 1970, she was determined to provide a similar opportunity for her old MME team now that they were in high school.
The gymnasts, now with Allie as their new coach, collaborated with the athletic director Walt West, who supported their efforts in organizing a team at MHS. Later, with the help of MHS physical education teacher Betsy Farness, they were able to secure uniforms, gym time, buses, and officials for competitions so that the girls could have a quality experience. It was through this group effort that Minnetonka's first competitive women's athletics team was born.
"I don't think any of us realized at the time that this was kind of a big deal!" explains Jody, one of the gymnasts. "We just wanted to be a part of something, and back in the early '70's there wasn't all that much offered for girls, especially athletic ones."
At first, earning the school's approval was tough. As Kristen puts it, the boys' teams were often more interested in watching the gymnasts practice in leotards than they were in giving up some of their gym space. Little by little however, popularity and support for girls athletics grew. That same year, other high schools in the area, including Eden Prairie, Edina, and Armstrong, started their own gymnastics teams. This allowed the girls to compete against teams outside of their own high school, truly setting their experience apart from previous GAA teams. The program took off, and began to evolve more and more into the athletic experience that was usually reserved for boys' teams. Even simple things, like having an official uniform with the school logo, and receiving good luck posters from other students on meet days, seemed revolutionary to the girls at the time.
The team was, and still is, incredibly grateful for the hard work Allie put in to making their sport not only possible, but also enjoyable and memorable. "She was the heart and soul of the team. She made us feel equally important and loved," says Jody. Kristen agrees, adding that Coach Allie "demanded the same rigorous training and competitiveness that coaches did for the boys teams, but did it with such warmth and inspiration."
Following the lead of the gymnastics team, other competitive athletic opportunities for girls began to emerge at Minnetonka. The following year, track and tennis programs were set up at the high school. After Title IX was passed in 1972, the Minnesota State High School League established a section representing girls athletics, headed by Dorothy McIntyre of Eden Prairie, who was the first woman hired by the league. With her support, the first statewide gymnastics and volleyball tournaments in 1974.Today, girls' sports are so popular that many people don't even realize that wasn't always the case.
"Today, the quality of female athletics has evolved to very high standards. It took a lot of work from many people to bring it to that level, as well as for the public to gain and respect the skills of the female athlete," concludes Coach Allie. "Girls today don't realize that there was a time when girls could not compete in high school sports. Now, if you want to sign up for a team? It's there. It is important for everyone to remember and honor Dorothy McIntyre of the MSHSL, school leaders, coaches, parents, officials, and fellow athletes who all worked hard to bring girls sports to the high level that it is today."
The full roster of the 1970-71 girls gymnastics team includes:
- Gloria Aanenson, '73
- Beth (Klingensmith) Becker, '73
- Linda (Duepner) Donelly, '72
- Suzie (Leavenworth) Freeman, '73
- Gail (Lee) Galis, '73
- Gayle Galis, '73, Prin (Schmidt) Hayes, '73
- Marlene (Merhar) Hefty, '73
- Nancy (Heuer) Larson, '73
- Kim (Griswold) Holmberg, '73
- Lydia (Leonard) Johnson, '72
- Lori (Smith) Konerza, '73
- Kristen McDougall, '73
- Peggy (Franklin) Post, '73
- Elizabeth Proudfit, '73
- Jody (Sheley) Schaak, '73
- Peg (Rode) Schelitzche, '73
- Nancy (Holm) Smith, '73
- Kristi (Bloom) Weisberg, '73
- Karen Willette, '73