ASU Creates Opportunities
Updated: Jun 18
There are those that walk into Aspire Kids Sport’s Center every day who are learning basic gymnastics skills for the first time; and there are former junior national team members that compile the 57-man Arizona State University (ASU) gymnastics team. It’s ASU’s firm belief that gymnastics is for everyone.
Scott Barclay, ASU's longtime coach, spoke with Kensley in an exclusive interview recounting the many gymnasts in his program that are not typically participants in high-level gymnastics programs. He referenced Jim Nelson, a gymnast who weighed over 210 pounds, and also Chris Smith, who was blind in one eye, both of whom were still able to have successful careers at ASU.
In continuation of breaking typical norms, ASU has lost or won the National Championship in the same meet, not once, but twice (1986 and 2016). In 1986, ASU won the National Championships. In those days, there was a rule where a team could contest a score. ASU defeated Nebraska at the national championship on Nebraska’s home turf. Nebraska contested the first routine and successfully won that petition and then contested two more routines which were unsuccessful. Because of the latter petitions, Nebraska re-lost the meet leaving ASU as the sole national champions.The meet and petition process can be viewed here.
Jerry Burrell, a former ASU gymnast and current founder of Acrodunk, remembers fondly the year that ASU won the 1986 championship. It was only his second trip to nationals because he formally started gymnastics his junior year of high school.
The fact that Burrell had limited gymnastics experience was not a hindering factor in the future two-time national champion’s career. He called up the coaches at ASU and they had a motto that anyone who wanted to train could train. This openness allowed for Burrell to also tie for the floor exercise title in 1986. He said, “Great thing was, it didn’t’ matter how good you were, if you showed up everyday and weren’t a distraction, you were allowed to be there.”
That mindset is one that Coach Barclay still employs today. It’s in giving everyone an opportunity that 57 men are now able to continue the joy of training gymnastics at the collegiate level. He has only three requirements for men to join his team: 1. Pay $150 dollars to help with uniform costs, have goals and commit to them, and be present to help the team fundraise.
While he desires for ASU to once again have the chance to compete in the NCAA division, he doesn’t waste time counting his losses because he’s busy helping other universities like Kansas University and Western Illinois find an even more competitive platform to compete on in and effort to grow the sport and opportunities for the gymnasts in this country.
While competing in the NCAA is the recognizable gold standard among college gymnastics, Coach Barclay also recognizes the benefit of being outside of the NCAA rules and regulations. Coaches can help kids if they are going through a rough spot or offer them a meal in ways that the NCAA prohibits. Coach Barclay says he’s in the business of “helping young men grow up.”
The GymACT division is growing and so is men’s gymnastics – just not the way the main storylines want to tell you. The NCAA gymnastics programs may be struggling to sustain and grow, but Coach Barclay and his Sun Devils have a place for each gymnast with an open mind and a willingness to learn.
In 2023, the Sun Devils reclaimed the national title besting the second-place team by nearly 15 points. Their reign and place in men's gymnastics will continue for many years to come.
Article by: Kensley Behel