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MIAA official regrets remark

Braintree’s Blake Ellis competed on the high bar in the MIAA Boys’ State Gymnastics Championships in 2010.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff/File

Braintree’s Blake Ellis competed on the high bar in the MIAA Boys’ State Gymnastics Championships in 2010.

A spokesman for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association is apologizing for calling gymnastics “a girls’ sport” — a remark that drew sharp criticism from many area gymnasts, including Olympic champion Aly Raisman.

“Sorry I said what I said,” spokesman Paul Wetzel said Wednesday. “I was trying to make a point, and I put my foot in mouth.”

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Wetzel made the “girls’ sport” comment to the Globe on the heels of the MIAA’s decision to stop recognizing boys’ gymnastics as an official high school sport. He said Wednesday there was no indication the MIAA’s board members will change their mind.

Eliminating boys’ gymnastics from sanctioned competition will affect only seven high schools fielding boys’ gymnastics teams in the 2012-2013 season — Andover, Attleboro, Braintree, Burlington, Lowell, Newton North, and Newton South — but the plan, and Wetzel’s remark, roiled many gymnasts, parents, and coaches.

Raisman turned to the social media site Twitter to express her opinion.

“Extremely disappointing that boys gymnastics is being dropped by MIAA,’’ Raisman tweeted Jan. 27. “This quote upsets me,’’ she added, referring to Wetzel’s comment in a Jan. 24 Globe story that the sport was not attracting enough male participants.

“It’s a “girls’ sport,’’ Wetzel had said in the interview. “When was the last time you watched boys’ gymnastics? They don’t get on the cover of the Wheaties box. They don’t get the endorsements.”

Posting under the hashtag “#ridiculous,” Raisman followed with another tweet, saying, “There is absolutely no such thing as a ‘girl sport.’ ” Her terse comment was quickly retweeted more than 700 times.

Another Olympic medalist from Massachusetts, Tim Daggett, who competed on West Springfield High School’s gymnastics team and won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics, told the Globe he was “disgusted” with the MIAA’s decision.

“I think it’s a travesty,” said Daggett. “It’s an opportunity that isn’t going to be there for kids who really love the sport. To not be able to represent your high school in the sport you love, it’s very upsetting, without any question.”

Daggett launched his gymnastics career from high school, so he said he finds the MIAA’s move to drop the sport especially troubling.

“That’s where I came from — high school gymnastics. I didn’t have a private club,” he said. “For me, this is like a shot in the heart.”

Peter Kormann, a Braintree High school graduate who won a bronze medal in the 1976 Olympics, also took issue with Wetzel’s characterization of gymnastics as a “girls’ sport.”

If “more girls play soccer than boys, does that mean soccer is a girls’ sport?” Kormann said in an interview.

Just because boys’ gymnastics, Kormann continued, “doesn’t have numbers like football . . . doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. It’s great for the kids who do it.”

Kormann said he hopes the MIAA board of directors will reverse its decision.

“I think it’s a shame,” he said. “I thought it was a poor decision. There’s nothing to be gained here.”

Michael Martin, a former gymnastics coach at Attleboro High School who served on the MIAA’s Gymnastics Committee, e-mailed MIAA officials and also implored them to reconsider.

“Boys’ gymnastics has been a longstanding tradition in Massachusetts,” said Martin in his e-mail. “To end MIAA support at this time would be a tragedy considering the low cost to the schools and the MIAA compared to the tremendous educational worth to the boys that participate in gymnastics.”

But despite the outcry, it appears the MIAA is sticking with its plan. Wetzel said that as of Wednesday, there was no indication the board members will change their mind. The board’s next scheduled meeting is March 7.

The board of directors voted 10-2 on Jan. 16 to drop boys’ gymnastics from official competition. Teams will finish out the season and the change would occur in the fall, at the start of the 2013-2014 season.

Schools could offer boys’ gymnastics as a club sport, but meets would not be sanctioned by the MIAA and there would be no state tournament or championship.

Only boys’ gymnastics would be affected; girls’ gymnastics will continue as usual.

In calling gymnastics a “girls’ sport,” Wetzel was explaining that, in Massachusetts, the number of schools offering boys’ gymnastics is far exceeded by schools with girls’ teams.

According to MIAA records, 10 high schools offered boys’ gymnastics programs during the 2011-2012 season, and 221 male gymnasts participated on those teams. At the same time, participation in girls’ gymnastics was far higher, with 1,252 female gymnasts competing at 97 schools.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.
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