University of Wisconsin La-Crosse has one of the top Division-III gymnastics teams in the nation, with seventeen national titles over the past twenty-five years. Kasey Crawford, head coach of the Eagles, will begin her sixth season in just a few weeks. Crawford was a well-decorated gymnast at UWL herself, competing from 2004-08, and gives us the inside scoop on Division III Gymnasts (The conversational Q&As are edited and condensed for clarity).
Your team has extraordinary core values for their gymnasts. Can you explain more about the culture and atmosphere?
Our culture and atmosphere surround a phrase called Heart - Honest - Finish. “With heart and honesty, we finish what we begin.”
HEART - We want athletes who truly have their heart in gymnastics. We believe those who REALLY do this for a true love of the sport will have the most enjoyment and the most success. It will create the best team culture.
HONESTY - We believe in having very open and honest communication, so that our relationships on the team and amongst the coaches are the strongest they can be. We do not believe in lying about injuries or feeling intimidated by your coaches. We believe in being honest about where we are at physically and mentally, and for our gymnasts to feel comfortable coming to the coaching staff with those things. We want to be open and honest with each other, so that we can have a trusting team environment.
FINISH - We believe in helping our athletes finish what they begin, starting with their gymnastics careers. It takes a huge amount of dedication, and those are characteristics of our team culture and atmosphere we talk about a lot - the mental toughness of that commitment.
In general, we are a lot of fun! We have lots of dance parties while competing and are always smiling, hugging, and having a great time. We are also a very strong academic university, so we treat our academics very serious. However, we also know life is about enjoying yourself, so we like to have the best of both worlds.
What are your relationships like with other schools in the WIAC (Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference)?
I think Division III gymnastics is a very tight-knit group in general, so we are all very close in the WIAC and all really support each other. We know we are all here because our athletes love gymnastics and wanted this opportunity.
What would you say are the main differences between Division I and Division III gymnastics?
Our season is shorter. We begin at the same time of year, but are finished by the end of March. Gymnasts have more of a "life" because our competitive season is done earlier.
There are no athletic scholarships, so everyone on the team is in the exact same boat. We are all “walk ons.”
All of our required competitions are within driving distance, so we hardly miss class. This allows our student-athletes to have time to study and be normal students on the weekends.
Can you describe the recruiting process for Division III gymnasts?
We really utilize Instagram as our main recruiting method because it is the easiest way to find athletes. Generally, this is how our recruiting process is:
- We have less recruiting restrictions so we can technically talk to any gymnast 9th grade and up, but we cannot do official visits until their junior year.
- We usually have all of our recruits committed by December of their senior year, but some do wait to decide as late as May of their senior year.
- In general, it’s a lot of communicating via email, phone, and social media. These days attending college recruiting camps is big, and we offer a high performance camp every June.
Division III sports do not offer athletic scholarships. What other opportunities for scholarships are there?
Academic or Multicultural Scholarships can be given and that is all based on the campus you are looking at. Many of our gymnasts have received academic scholarships and out-of-state scholarships over the years. It is definitely not a full-ride, but it helps a lot. Also, Wisconsin is VERY affordable. Our out-of-state tuition is sometimes less than other state’s In-State tuition.
What is the University of Wisconsin La Crosse community like? Do you get a lot of fans at meets?
The community is amazing - we have such great support, especially for the sport of gymnastics. We get a lot of fans at our meets since they are always on Friday nights, making it easier for students and families to attend.
Our campus is 10,000 students so I always call it medium-sized. La Crosse itself is 50,000 people (100,000 with surrounding areas), so there really is a great fan base. It’s a city with a small town feel - it’s the best!
What advice do you have for young athletes who are interested in Division III Gymnastics?
Email the coaches! We cannot find you if you do not put yourself out there. It never hurts to send an email and see what the coaches think. Also, create an Instagram and follow other D3 teams and the NCGA (The Collegiate Gymnastics Association).