ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – In the Fall of 2020, the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Division I gymnastics team was a causality in a sweep of budget cuts across the university system, approved to be eliminated by the Board of Regents alongside hockey and alpine skiing Unless they could raise two years of private funding to cover expenses.
The fundraising of $444,000 by June of 2021 allowed the gymnastics program to hang in the balance for the 2021-22 season, but to ensure a future of flipping, beam balancing and floor routines, they had to double that money with the deadline looming at the end of this month.
Wednesday will go down as the biggest day in the program’s history — on or off the mat — as they are officially permanently reinstated by the University.
“Every single person who supported us in one way or another — whether that was a cash donation, whether that was our silent auction, whether that was buying a leotard, buying a t-shirt, coming to our home meets — like whatever it was that somebody did, it truly impacted the lives of so many and of so many future generations of gymnastics,” said UAA gymnastics head coach Marie-Sophie Boggasch. “Everybody who was part of this effort is going to be part of UAA gymnastics legacy forever.”
Boggasch is a former Sealwolf gymnast herself and after nearly two years of question marks, cold calls, fundraisers, camps, merchandise sales, campaigns, pledges, cash donations, social media push and much, much more, the program raised the necessary $888,000 in what UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell says it is likely a record-breaking achievement in donations to a collegiate gymnastics program. Brooklyn Kopsack is a Colony High School alum from Palmer who grew up around UAA gymnastics.
“It means so much because I grew up being able to watch the girls and like the only reason I knew college gymnastics was a thing really was because of our team,” Kopsack said. “So it just means so much that we get to have little girls, all the little Alaskan gymnasts watching us, being inspired by us and having that same dream that I did.”
While there is no good time to be subject to elimination, the gymnastics team was set to be cut a handful of months into the pandemic and as student-athletes would be arriving on campus, such as Allie McClure of Oakley, Idaho.
“When I first heard that our team was going to be eliminated, I was actually on my flight to fly here to Alaska for the first time back in August of 2020,” McClure reflected. “Our coach said, ‘you know, you can turn around and leave, our program is going to be cut, or you can stick with us and fight it out,’ and I just felt really strongly that I needed to stick with it and I just had this feeling that it was going to work out and we are fighters and so I am so glad it did, it’s just a big full circle that is so exciting.”
While much of the fundraising came locally, the program received donations from 37 states and six countries, ranging from $5 to a $50,000 anonymous contribution. Seawolf gymnast Marcela Bonifasi of Guatemala competed in her de ella first meets with UAA during the 2021-22 season.
“I was impressed that so many people were able to help a sports team,” Bonifasi said. “It was just like, how great that so many people are supporting us, and we just feel love I guess that so many people [thought] it was worth it to do everything they could to help us out.”
On top of setting career-highs during the 2021-22 season and maintaining an impressive cumulative team GPA of 3.84, each Seawolf gymnast was heavily involved in the fundraising campaign, stacking a major responsibility on the already busy lives of student-athletes.
“As much pain as this effort has caused and as much as we felt the impact almost everyday, I think that every single one also grew through that opportunity and I am very, very proud of every single one for that,” Boggasch said.
“I think it truly showed everybody — almost every because almost everybody had to hear about us eventually — that UAA gymnastics is the place to be because we showed that we are willing to fight for this program for two years and I think it proved to everybody how special we are, how special our program is, what we can offer and just that sheer outreach. We have almost I think almost 1,000 supporters [who donated] and our roster size next year is going to be the biggest that we have ever seen probably,” she added. “So, I do attribute it to our community outreach and to our campaign that we just proved to the world and to the gymnastics community especially, that, ‘hey, come to UAA because here is people, here is a team, here is a program that wants you here, that wants to stay here and that wants to be undeniable.”
UAA gymnastics is set to return, for good, in 2022-23 with their home-opener January 13.
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