For most college towns, it is always a buzz around campus when there is a men’s basketball game. However, in Cedar City, there is a different sport that takes precedence during the winter months: women’s gymnastics.
If you are a student or fan of Southern Utah University, you likely have seen one of the electric home meet’s that the gymnasts put on. With the high-flying flips and amazing athleticism, it leaves spectators in awe. Averaging almost 2,200 fans this season, it makes it the most viewed winter sport at the university — around 500 people more than the men’s basketball’s 1,714.
The main reason why these meets have higher attendance is due to the student turnout. During basketball games, the student section will be half full on average for men’s games and three rows full for women’s games. For gymnastics, students show up over an hour early so that they can be as close to the floor as possible. The student section is always full as other students fill in the other seats all around the America First Event Center.
Why is this the case? What makes this small, mid-major Division I school in southern Utah such a hotspot for gymnastics?
One SUU “superfan” Andrei Hinckley stated, “With gymnastics, it is a lot easier to get us students pumped because [the team is] good. Watching a team that we can believe will win each meet helps bring more people out.”
SUU has won all of their home meets this season including matchups against University of Arizona, Brigham Young University, Utah State University and Boise State University.
When talking with senior gymnast Karley McClain about the environment for gymnastics meets, she said, “The home meet environment did have a role in me choosing to [compete] at SUU. I remember coming to my first SUU gymnastics meet as a recruit and was amazed at all the support from the community and students…the fans are just as involved as the athletes are and I love that.”
One of her favorite memories from the AFEC is from her sophomore year when the team got a 197.225, beating the previous team school record.
If you have not had the chance to make it to a Flippin’ Birds gymnastics meet yet this season, there is one more opportunity Friday, March 11, at 7 p.m. for Senior Night. The Flippin’ Birds will face off against The College of William and Mary, looking to go undefeated at home for the first season since 2017.
Article by: Nate Coombs
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics