Sheri Keck and gymnastics, a legacy to celebrate
Sheri Keck was just a sophomore when she competed in the first state-sanctioned high school gymnastics meet in 1974. After the passing of Title IX in 1972, Keck was a pioneer of the sport that gained notoriety on larger stages like the Olympics. Keck recalls that first meet in Craig Mattick’s In Play podcast.
“I just felt so privileged to be able to compete in a girl sport… we went from basically no state meets to competing for our school,” Keck told In Play.
That meet in ’74 would take Keck on a lifetime career with gymnastics. She competed in college at South Dakota State.
Keck went on to have a successful coaching career with Rapid City Stevens High School. The team’s accolades included six state team titles, and a few runner-up finishes, throughout her time at the helm.
“It was a fluke that I got into gymnastics,” she said.
Keck started as a ballerina, but discovered she enjoyed the adventure of gymnastics, after a teammate invited her to the gym.
With no clubs nearby, Keck received most of her training as a three-sport athlete.
“It was pretty much in season only and push hard through the season, do the best you could and then onto the next sport,” she said.
Keck recalled the early days of state meets, when her team stayed at well-known judge Lucy Lenco’s house, a well known friend of Keck’s coach, Joanne Sterner.
“We all bonded together, we all knew each other,” Keck said, “We were all fighting the same battle.”
South Dakota Gymnastics evolved from one-class to two in 1976. At the same time, other women’s sports were also gaining popularity. Keck also competed in track and cross country, two sports she believes compliment gymnastics well.
“When you’re strong, flexible and then you’ve got confidence, those add up pretty well for any sport for a kid to be good at,” she said.
When Keck began coaching, she encouraged her team members to try other sports.
“Even if you’re not the number one, you’re still a contributor,” Keck said.
Keck coached Rapid City Stevens for 13 years. Later, she coached competitive cheer. Keck recruited some of her previous gymnasts.
“They weren’t excited about being cheerleaders until I showed them that competitive cheer is a gymnastic sport,” she said.
Keck led the Class AA cheer team to a championship in small group stunting and tumbling.
While no longer a coach today, Keck stays involved in various hall of fame boards throughout the state. She was inducted into South Dakota Gymnastics Coaches Hall of Fame in 2000.
Today, South Dakota gymnastics faces new challenges. Some districts have made efforts to try and drop the sport.
“It just puts a hole in your heart, because I know what all those kids got from being gymnasts…it (gymnastics) gives kids the confidence… if you can go out and dance around in basically your underwear, you’ve got to have confidence,” she said.
The 2024 state gymnastics meet is underway Friday and Saturday this week from Pierre TF Riggs high school. Complete coverage is available at sdpb.org/gymnastics.
South Dakota Public Broadcasting will air a highlight show of the state gymnastics competition on March 17th at 1 pm CT on SDPB1-TV.