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Sports & Rec

Gymnastics, an early success story

4ca3a3a924_Lolly Forseth Old Photo.jpg
Sioux Falls School District

In today’s world, there are many different levels and tiers surrounding gymnastics - from youth to adult. In South Dakota, high school gymnastics can be traced back to the ’50s and '60s with girls participating, and even earlier in some instances with boys gymnastics.

High School gymnastics in South Dakota, however, did not officially become a sanctioned high school activities association sport in the Mt. Rushmore state until 1974.

Sioux Falls Washington won the first-ever sanctioned state gymnastics championship, and the Warriors were led by head coach Lolly Forseth. Forseth’s story with gymnastics in South Dakota runs deep. She earned her first gymnastics job at Sioux Falls Lincoln in 1969 at just 21-years old.

“Their coach was moving out of state. And the gymnastics program was quite large there, at Lincoln,” Forseth explained. “First of all, I think the best thing going for me was, I think I was the only one graduating [at SDSU in ’69] with any gymnastics background.

Forseth grew up and attended high school in Canton, South Dakota before going to college at South Dakota State University. In high school, Forseth was big into fine arts and dance, but she had a teacher named Joe McMackin, who started a tumbling team.

“We started a 10 person tumbling team and did some pretty basic tumbling and mostly pyramids and diving. Stuff I’d never encouraged my kids to do now, but it was fun,” joked Forseth. “So when I went into college, naturally gymnastics was the field I was interested in.”

Forseth did just one year of gymnastics in college, however, because she found a new passion.

“I was very involved in cheerleading and that had a lot of gymnastics to it, at the level at SDSU,” Forseth explained. “There were only eight cheerleaders at SDSU at the time, so we cheered for all football and all basketball, and it was a great experience. I couldn’t do both cheerleading and gymnastics. The cheerleaders travel to all of the out-of-state games and everywhere we went I had a lot of travel experiences that I had never had the opportunity before. I don’t regret it. I had three years of cheerleading and a lot of gymnastics experience with that, and a lot of dance.”

She landed the gymnastics coaching job at Sioux Falls Lincoln fresh out of college. Forseth would lead the Patriots gymnastics program to three state championships before the sport became sanctioned in 1974.

“I knew the skills, didn’t mean I could do them, but I knew the skills,” Forseth chuckled. “And I spent a lot of time in books at night, and especially with boys, because when I started, I was also the head boys coach and our boys season was larger than our girls season. We had more meets for boys than girls.”

President Richard Nixon signed the Title IX declaration in 1972, which was an initiative to for gaining gender equality and equal opportunities for women, with the sports realm being included.

“Prior to Title IX, ’70, ’71, ’72, during those first three years, I remember making plenty of phone calls to Pierre, not requesting so much equality in gymnasiums, but equality in competitions,” Forseth stated. “Our girls want to belong to a conference. They wanted to have qualifying tournaments, being able to go to state. And that was the thing I remember, I first really worked for, was trying to become sanctioned in the state.”

By the time the sport became sanctioned in 1974, Forseth had jumped over to Sioux Falls Washington. She won state gymnastics titles at Washington in ’74, ’75, ’76, and ’77. In the early 80’s she returned to Lincoln high school and led the Patriots gymnastics team to four state-sanctioned titles as well - ’82, ’83, ’85, and ’86.

Not only is Forseth recognized as one of the key components into elevating high school gymnastics in South Dakota, but in 1995, she became the first female athletic director in South Dakota history - at Lincoln.

“I was out at Wyoming in the Summer of '95. I was speaking at a coach's clinic and I got a phone call from Mark Meile, and he just presented it to me,” told Forseth. He said, "We talked to you four years earlier about becoming an athletic director and you turned us down because you weren't ready to quit coaching. And so, we're presenting this to you now. And we'd like to know if you are interested in the athletic director job at Lincoln High School?" And I said, "Well, my husband's back in Sioux Falls. I think that's something that I need to talk to him about too." He says, "Well, when are you getting back?" I said, "Well, we're leaving tomorrow, which was Saturday. And it was about 11-hour drive from Laramie." And he said, "Sunday morning, I'll come over to your house. We'll talk about it.”

From there, Forseth became the state’s first female high school athletic director. Today, she still lives in Sioux Falls, and she’s remembered for the time she dedicated in her life to making high school gymnastics a sport to be taken seriously.