FORWARD - Dedicated to Mary Sarver
Mary Sarver started this history years ago and through the passing down of her work, Lee took it over in 2001 and it is a work in progress. Many thanks to Jerry Penney for prodding Mary to delve into the history of Washington girl's high school gymnastics hsitory. Mary then gave the booklet she had put together to Karen Wisen. Karen gave it to Lee when she found out she had a love of history.
Mary Jones Sarver: ( 19__ - Jan. 26, 2004) "In 1998, Jerry Penney of Sammamish High School and the W.I.A.A. (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) requested that I write down what I remember about the development of the Girls' High School Gymnastics in the State of Washington." (Mary did initially include boys’ gymnastics as well as much background information.)
Mary graduated from Western Washington in 1955. She went to Denmark to the Gymnastic Folk High School for one year and then back to WA to Highline Junior High and worked with Ev Woodward in gymnastics. She then went to Highline HS in 1958-59. She noted that they had the first high school team and competed in Canada 1959 in the AAU.
Mary went to the Seattle YMCA for help from George Lewis. She put on clinics and workshops and was an instructor and co-director of Gym Kamp (Camp Waskowitz). She also taught at Highline Junior College. She was an outstanding teacher of folk dancing. Mary attended the first National Gymnastics Conference and wrote in the first Gymnastic Guide Book and also wrote the "Beam" section of Eric Hughes' 1963 book Gymnastics for Girls. I (Lee) also noticed in my copy of DGWS Gymnastics Guide, June 1963-1965, that Mary wrote the section on Floor Exercise. She was inducted into the WSGCA Hall of Fame in 1998 and the USAG WA Hall of Fame 2004.
Lee Renier Bjella: Originally from Duluth, Minnesota, I went to Bemidji State University, Bemidji, MN. I competed on the gymnastics team there, and also one year at the University of North Dakota where I was named MVP in 1978. I went back to Bemidji with my husband and finished my fifth year at BSU, graduating with a degree in Physical Education with minors in Art and Health and a Coaching Certificate. I was the assistant coach of the gymnastics team in 1978 and the next year I was the head coach, but retired coaching college and rec classes to raise my children and judge. (Judging since 1974.) We moved to Washington State in 1985 where I have continued to enjoy judging. In 2008, I completed a Certificate in Web Design from Everett Community College.
(Note: Dr. Eric Hughes, highly successful Men's Gymnastics coach at UW and also of the 1972 Olympic USA Men's Gymnastics Team, started the gymnastics program at Bemidji State Teachers College in 1948. He has a chapter in this history and I am indebted to him for his friendship and input in these chapters.)
My interest in gymnastics history started with a search for the roots of American gymnastics. That led me to finding out how the sport began in other parts of the world, and then in Washington State. As I was looking at early 20th century gymnastics in American, I saw names of people who influenced people that live (or lived) here in this state. These people in turn, influenced gymnastics in Washington and in the region and country. I was intrigued by the past and how much I did not know about most of these people and what they had done for gymnastics. I understood that I had a lot to learn and that everyone has his or her own gymnastics story, be he/she a gymnast, coach or judge. It has been fun and interesting and my search for information has greatly increased my respect for all the knowledgeable people in this state, and their love and dedication to the sport. Mary Sarver’s paperwork landed in my hands thanks to Karen Wisen - another Washington gymnastics pioneer and our first Brevet judge - and I began to delve into all areas of Washington gymnastics history.
As I went through each “layer” of gymnastics history, I could imagine what it would have been like in “the old days”. I can imagine that each athlete, through the ages, has experienced the same frustrations, joys, sprains and rips. Can you close your eyes and remember what it was like (if you were a gymnast) to chalk up, and psych up for a move you really wanted to get? How about those horse hair mats and Rueter boards?
Each athlete that has competed should realize that we have camaraderie with every other gymnast, and a mutual love of the sport along with other gymnastics enthusiasts whether they are coaches, judges, parents, club owners or spectators.
I have read three very good quotes concerning history and the recording and remembering of the past. One is from the book Confederates in the Attic, by Tony Horowitz; “People like me, we’re keepers of the past.” (I feel that I am a little bit of a keeper of the past but it is strangely difficult to get people to write down their memories.)
Another is; “History is lived forward but it is written in retrospect. We know the end before we consider the beginning and we can never wholly recapture what it was to know the beginning only.” (English historian C.V. Wedgwood.)
Gerald George, PhD, former gymnast and author of Biomechanics of Women’s Gymnastics wrote; “…the younger gymnastics community does not have a complete perspective on the total gymnastics picture in America…the seeds were planted by a few men of great foresight…”
I would like to thank the gymnastics community in Washington State for their contributions to this sport, and especially to Mary Sarver for the work she did in putting together the initial Washington State History of Gymnastics of which I am expanding upon. In the future, I hope that someone will take over and update what is being put together now. Thanks to all who contributed information and pictures. Without all these people – there would be no history!