UAA gymnastics program permanently reinstated with nearly $900,000 in grassroots donations

by Eric Olson  |   

UAA gymnastics team
The Seawolf gymnastics team is celebrating its permanent, hard-fought program reinstatement made possible by more than 1,000 supporters. (Photo by Skip Hickey)

When UAA gymnastics coaches Marie-Sophie Boggasch and Kendra Daniels heard the news in 2020 that the program would be eliminated due to budget cuts across the University of Alaska system, they made a plan to overcome what seemed like an endgame. 

“I'm very competitive. Every single gymnast is very competitive,” said Boggasch. “When we initially heard the UA board of regents’ motion, we both cried for maybe five minutes. And then we got on Zoom and said, ‘Alright, team. We’re going to fight and persevere.”

Forged from leading student-athletes through training in the darkness of Alaska winters, a pandemic and a budget collapse, Boggasch’s coaching mantra is, “Be persistent. Be resilient. Be undeniable.”

Back on the floor, for good

Two years later — and after a monumental final fundraising push — UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell announced the Division I team reached what is likely a record-breaking achievement in donations to a collegiate gymnastics program this week. Public contributions, over the last two years totaling $888,000, have officially brought UAA gymnastics back for long-term reinstatement and sustainability.

"This represents a huge step forward for Seawolf Athletics and an incredible success for UAA and our community," said Chancellor Parnell. "Once again, our community demonstrated its strength by rallying together and supporting the university and its students. I am thrilled that our gymnastics team's hard work paid off and our student-athletes will have the opportunity to compete and represent UAA with pride and enthusiasm."

Brooklyn Kopsack, a gymnastics team member from Palmer, celebrated not just for her reinvigorated program but for future generations of Alaska athletes. “Reinstatement means so much to me because I grew up watching the UAA gymnastics team compete,” said the kinesiology major. “I’m from Alaska, and it’s amazing that other little girls get to be inspired by us.” 

Nearly 1,000 supporters across 37 states and six countries made gifts to help the team realize its “Stick the Landing'' campaign, with donations ranging from $5 to a $50,000 anonymous contribution. Lead funders and sponsors included the Anchorage Gymnastics Association, Paul and Leigh Bates, Benton Bay Athletic Lions Foundation, GCI, Matson, Northrim Bank, Saltchuk Alaska, Solstice Charitable Foundation, Women’s Gymnastics Coaches Association / Central California Gymnastics Institute and more.

The team received tens of thousands of dollars in in-kind donations, from leotards to lodging and travel; significant gifts from its coaches, UAA staff, faculty and retirees; and community support from Northern Lights Bingo proceeds. 

Start Value: over 10.0 (unprecedented)

“Nationally, there have been a few other women’s gymnastics programs that have been on the chopping block and saved, as colleges navigate challenging budget environments. As far as I know, this is the only time, however, that a gymnastics program has been restored through donations of this level. At UAA, more than anywhere else in the nation, our team is competing because of the public,” said Boggasch.

To reach their goal, Seawolf gymnasts cold-called businesses and prospective donors, spoke in front of legislators and University of Alaska regents and made substantial donations of their own. Two even donated their hair. They led in-person and virtual fundraisers, created social media calls-to-action and personally thanked supporters. Every team member was involved in the effort while maintaining a cumulative team GPA of 3.84 during the 2021-2022 academic year.

“It has been heartwarming to see how many people have rallied behind our student-athletes in Alaska. Every single person — and I want to say that again — every single person who donated to our gymnastics program has directly changed lives. They’ve created something to cheer on in Anchorage, after such challenging years, and they’ve given our students a reason to keep competing,” said Boggasch.

“This is terrific news for the future of Seawolf Athletics,” said Ryan Swartwood, UAA athletic director. “So much credit goes to our coaching staff and student-athletes for their tireless fundraising efforts. We’d like to thank the many individual and corporate donors, as well as the hockey booster community, for making this possible.

“Our gymnasts are not only top performers in competition, but also in the classroom. For the hundreds of young girls around Alaska who participate in youth gymnastics, this creates a clear pathway for them to have mentors and athletic opportunities at their state university,” said Swartwood.

The 2023 season

Because of its countless supporters during this fundraising campaign, the Seawolves gymnastics team has its first home meet in January 2023, with a team of 20, its largest roster in a decade.

“We fought so hard, and gained so many supporters,” said Boggasch. “Gymnasts from all over the world have witnessed this extraordinary support in Alaska and have decided UAA is the place to compete. I am especially looking forward to next season, since we will be able to focus more on the student-athlete experience than on saving the program. There is a lot of potential to be unlocked. Our donors will forever be part of that legacy."

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