High school students and Illinois gymnasts cohabitate

By Claire O'Brien, Staff Writer

In a campus populated by 50,000 college students, it’s easy to forget there’s a high school on our nearly 10 square-mile campus. But for the Illinois women’s gymnastics team, the students at University High School attend Physical Education class in the same space as the team’s practice facility.

In Kenney Gym where the Illini practice, there’s a track above the gymnastics floor. University High holds PE classes on the track at the same time as the team’s practice.

Kenney is, in a sense, a home base for University High sports. The athletics office is in Kenney, some of the school’s other offices are in Kenney and volleyball and basketball games are played there as well. But Kenney isn’t the only campus building University High athletics use.

Many of the athletic facilities on campus are also used by University High, including the Armory, the Arboretum, Atkins Tennis Center and the ARC Pool, but the interactions between Illinois athletics and University High athletics generally only include sharing facilities.

“As far as collaboration with student-athletes and coaches, those opportunities come less often,” University High Athletic Director Tim Bicknell said via email. “Uni High would love to have a stronger connection with Illinois Athletics student-athletes and coaches.”

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University High has been holding PE classes at Kenney for many years. University High PE teacher Doug Mynatt said he’s taught at University High for 25 years and has yet to hold a class somewhere besides Kenny.

“It’s interesting,” Mynatt said. “We share the space, but not really the same space. You know, we’re on the track, they’re down there.”

Bicknell said PE classes have been held at Kenney since the 1970s but didn’t know a specific year when University High began to utilize Kenney’s space.

Sometimes, co-existing with two very different groups is not an option, but so far, University High and Illini Gymnastics get along very well. However, Bicknell said there have been only small disagreements over trivial matters since the two groups have their distinct spaces and don’t usually go into the other’s space.

While the two groups hardly interact, having people in the room during practice helps the Illini acclimate to performing in front of audiences.

“Now, I don’t really notice them,” senior Karen Howell said. “I think it was good to have them here to (feel) like I was in front of a crowd already.”

Howell added that the high school students have had PE in Kenney throughout her tenure at Illinois, but she didn’t know about the arrangement until she got to campus. Some University High graduates matriculate at Illinois, and Howell said she’s friends with some of the former PE students.

After sharing a space for several years with the PE students, Howell doesn’t really notice their presence and knows their routine by heart.

“We kind of know what they have to do now,” she said. “They’re really nice. They’re not really distracting at all, so, yeah, they’re cool.”

Head coach Nadalie Walsh thought sometimes having an ‘audience’ can be noticeable, but usually the two groups just co-exist.

“We’re doing our own thing, they’re doing their own thing,” Walsh said. “We’re just trying to function at the same time, simultaneously, in the same space.”

Walsh said she is “not exactly sure” if the students attend the team’s meets, but Mynatt is a frequent attendee of Illinois gymnastics meets.

“Personally, yes, I go, I go to their meets,” Mynatt said. “I’m sure we have some of our students that do as well.”

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