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From Kadoka and beyond, a family legacy in gymnastics

Craig Wollman
South Dakota Public Broadcasting

There are plenty of sports families in South Dakota. It doesn’t matter if it’s football, basketball, wrestling, or volleyball, you’ll find families who have been heavily involved in a specific sport for generations. Gymnastics is no different – the sport is filled with people who have left their mark on its progression, and it has now trickled down to the next generation.

Take the O’Gorman Knights squad for example. The connection with gymnastics for head coach Skye Bork extends well past her time in Sioux Falls.

Bork, who currently wrapped up her ninth year at the helm, has already carved out a nice legacy for herself. It includes two runner-up finishes and a state championship in ’22. And then just last year, two of her gymnasts, Audrey Meyer and Maeve Boetel broke records at the state meet. Meyer claimed the ‘AA’ state record in Floor Exercise, while Boetel broke the all-time mark in Vault.

“I think every coach hopes at some point that they'll have victories, but ultimately for me it's seeing the growth and successes of the individual person. I love seeing where my gymnasts end up in life,” Bork explained. “I love looking back on those memories and re-experiencing those wins from states and those individual meets throughout the years, but ultimately just seeing my gymnasts learn and grow and become adults is the most fulfilling thing.”

Bork’s journey, though, was carved out with help from her family and community of Kadoka. Her mom, Kippy Udehn, helped get the sport going in the Kadoka area. Kippy grew up in Illinois, but after getting married, her path eventually landed her in Kadoka.

“I'm a city girl and I lived in the Quad Cities (Illinois), which is 250,000, when I was growing up,” Kippy explained. “And when we moved to Kadoka, my mother had grown up in a very small town in Iowa and she said, "Kippy, you need to bring something to this community that it doesn't have." And I said, "Well, should I teach violin lessons?" And she said, "I was thinking more about gymnastics." So, I started gymnastics at seven months pregnant with Skye in my living room with one mat and seven students.”

Her mother’s advice was simple, bring something to the community of Kadoka that they didn’t have.

“The school had some old equipment in the back, I mean old equipment from the fifties and we're talking about 1991 or 1990, and I went ahead and bought that equipment and was able to put it up, found a building, and was able to put it up in a gym,” Kippy said. “Skye was born then in November, and by the time she was three months old, literally she was swinging on the bars. The girls, and boys, because I had both girls and boys, they'd put her on the bars and their hands over it and swing her, and it was about the only time that she was happy. She loved it. And you couldn't keep her off the equipment. Absolutely couldn't keep this little squirt off the equipment.”

Skye is the youngest of four siblings in her family. She has one older brother named Zane, and then two older sisters, Cierra and Tara. All of them are, or at one point were, involved with gymnastics. Even their father Myron was involved. He helped with maintenance on the gym and became the primary videographer for meets. The family also took their gymnastics passion on the road to surrounding communities near Kadoka.

Cierra (2nd row, 3rd from left), Tara (2nd row, 4th from right), Kippy (2nd row, furthest right)
From the Family
Cierra (2nd row, 3rd from left), Tara (2nd row, 4th from right), Kippy (2nd row, furthest right)

“We started in the basement, and it gradually grew over the years until we had our own gym. And we had to learn a lot. We had to clean the gym, we had to clean the mats, we had to clean the floors, we had to clean the bathrooms. And having your parents own the gym, there's a lot of work involved in that,” explained Tara Johanneson, Skye’s oldest sister. “And we spent a lot of time on the road. We would travel around in the evenings, and our weekends were pretty much dedicated to gymnastics. We would have clinics and go to these other towns, and we would host these events so that people

“All of my kids started coaching by the time they were seven years old,” stated Kippy. “They would lead warmups and they would teach the athletes in all of the communities that we went to, they would teach them how to jump on the springboard, how to walk and jump on the balance beam. And then they'd help them, they'd walk them along the low beam or hold their hand while they did the jumps on the springboard.”

Tara Johanneson

As the oldest, Tara graduated high school in 2001. After taking a year away from gymnastics, she quickly got back into it in 2003. Only this time, as an official.

“I was always really interested in it from watching the officials when I was competing. I thought it was interesting how they came up with the scores. But I had done coaching, I was in college, I had done some coaching. And although I do like coaching, I knew it wasn't something that I really was going to do long-term, but I did really want to stay involved in gymnastics. And I knew that the way I wanted to do that was through officiating,” said Tara.

Tara is still officiating gymnastics today, and she still loves the sport with everything she’s got.

“Gymnastics as a whole is, I think, special. And I say that with a lot of bias, and I know that because it is something so near and dear to my heart. Because it is such a fully, well, you have to be honestly an ultimate athlete,” exclaimed Tara. “In South Dakota, gymnastics is a really small community. And it is really extra special, because although we want to believe that there are a lot of people involved, we cross a lot of paths, and we're involved in a lot of other things as well. And that just puts you in a really fun group, that when you see each other at a baseball game, your connection is still there, and you still talk gymnastics.”

Kippy gives a lot of credit to the community of Kadoka for also helping build gymnastics for the school and towns in the co-op. Without the support of the people in Kadoka, she said, it wouldn’t have come together like it did. And now, although she’s done coaching, Kippy has also found her way into being an official, like her eldest daughter Tara.

“We see things differently,” explained Kippy when it comes to being an official rather than a coach. “It all washes out in the end, and almost always the person that's supposed to win, win, or the team that's supposed to win, wins almost always. But I may be looking more at a nice hold on a handstand, whereas somebody else might be, some other official might be looking at somebody being in, we call it relevé, being on their toes for most of the beam routine. You have different things that you're really looking at.”

Skye Bork
Skye Bork

Skye ended up going to college at the University of South Dakota. While attending USD, She volunteered as a gymnastics coach for Vermillion high school. Her first head coaching job was also for Vermillion, in the fall of 2013. Two years later, in 2015, she became the head coach at O'Gorman.

She’s absolutely loved her ride as the Knights head coach for roughly the past decade, but she also understands that plenty of people came before her, like her mom, who helped paved the way for the sport.

“Without those people working so hard, when they had the very limited resources to do so, we would not be able to have the sport that we have today,” Skye explained. “We would not be able to have the successes that we have today. My state championship team would not have had the ability to have that championship, and every single girl that has walked into my gym wouldn't have their own personal stories and their growth without the pioneers pushing and doing all of the hard work to get us to where we are. And I'm so grateful for all of the work that they did.”

For Skye’s mom Kippy, who helped introduce gymnastics to countless towns and people in western South Dakota, it all goes back to the advice that her mom gave her years ago.

“I am more than grateful to my mother for even bringing it up because it isn't something that would've crossed my mind,” said Kippy. “Yeah, you can't help but think of the family legacy, but for me it was much deeper than that, because it truly did take the whole town of Kadoka to make it possible.”

While the gymnastics legacy of Kippy and her family continues to live on today, it’s just one example of the sports passion that exists in the Mt. Rushmore state. Families all around South Dakota dedicate countless hours and years to providing opportunities to kids. And really, that’s what makes our state so special.

Nate Wek is currently the sports content producer and sports and rec beat reporter for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He is a graduate of South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism Broadcasting and a minor in Leadership. From 2010-2013 Nate was the Director of Gameday Media for the Sioux Falls Storm (Indoor Football League) football team. He also spent 2012 and 2013 as the News and Sports Director of KSDJ Radio in Brookings, SD. Nate, his wife Sarah, and two kids Braxan and Jordy, live in Canton, SD.