Cokato High School’s first girls gymnastic team. Photograph from the 1971 Cokato High School Yearbook.
During the 1970-1971 school year, the year before Title IX was passed, the Cokato High School incorporated girls varsity gymnastics and golf as its first school sanctioned sports for girls since it dropped basketball in 1931. Cokato’s first girls gymnastics team was comprised of fifteen students from seventh through tenth grade. They were Paula Benson, Kelly Kivi, Mary Bernhart, Kathy Hentges, Marianne Pokornowski, Teri Kivi, Bonnie Gillman, Mary Jilek, Rori Ortquist, Julie Kallstrom, Julie Oelrich, Loretta Nikkola, Diane Monson, Viki Peterson, and Regina Ziegler.
According to the 1971 Enterprise Dispatch, the Cokato High School gymnastics team participated in four separate meets and performed during half-time at the last home basketball game during their first season.
Nikkola recalled preparing for these meets these first few years, “The short story is we went from creating and practicing our floor exercise routine in a straight hallway for the better part of the week while the basketball team had the full court. Closer to competition we could get the gym so we could do our routines and make sure we were hitting the corners and the center of the square.”
According to Nikkola, Title IX and the merging of the Dassel and Cokato schools were the biggest changes to the program. In particular, Nikkola stated that the merge with
Dassel brought “more talent on board.”
As time passed, the events that D-C gymnasts participated in evolved as well. Nikkola remembered that, “Very early on in the program we had trampoline as part of gymnastics. We had some real talent that [could] even use a spring board to get on the trampoline, which other squads didn't do. Unfortunately somewhere in another school a female had a bad accident on the trampoline and they stopped having trampoline for competition.”
Teresa Kivisto. Photo from Enterprise Dispatch collection.
Sara Keskey-Rufer, D-C gymnastics coach, also mentioned changes to the sport. According to
Keskey-Rufer, uneven bar routines changed as the bars were placed further apart from each other. Also, routines have become more difficult over time.
In 1984, Dassel-Cokato girls gymnastics made it to state for the first time in the program’s history. The occasion was also remarkable in that it was not only the first D-C girls team to go to state, it was also the first time any winter D-C sport had made it. This historic 1984 team was comprised of Julie Haugen, Kari Shoutz, Patty Hannus, Teresa Koivisto, Debbie Peterson, Beth Peroutka, Lisa Stelton, Marilyn Ryan, Stephanie Rokala, and Karen Bergstrom. The manager was Miriam Ryan and the coach was Paul Kliewer. The team placed third in state.
This February, D-C’s gymnastics legacy continued with gymnast Kiana Keith. Keith, according to the February 28, 2020 Enterprise Dispatch, was the first D-C gymnast to qualify for state since her coach, Alex Halonen, did so in 2012, and the first Charger to participate in the state
tournament since Kara Hedin in 1997.
Anna Schumann dismounts from bars as Patti Erickson spots.