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Portland gym cuts ties with USA Gymnastics after Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse scandal

Updated: 11:49 am

A Portland gymnastics facility for children said in an email on Wednesday that it would sever ties with USA Gymnastics following the sentencing of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team physician and Michigan State, who was found guilty of sexually abusing young gymnasts.

In the email, Andrea Lawrence, operations director of The Children's Gym, wrote: "At this time, we have decided to disconnect from USA Gymnastics until they restructure their mission and priorities to meet our standard" .

On Thursday, Lawrence described The Children & # 39; s Gymnasium, which his mother started in 1984, as a "multi-sports activities center for children."

Lawrence said because they are not a competitive facility, the Children's Gym membership at USA Gymnastics focuses primarily on training. But after the Nassar scandal, Lawrence said her gym would no longer be associated with the national organization, which said it "needs a complete renovation" before she considers joining again.

USA Gymnastics is the national governing body for the sport of gymnastics. They sanction competitions and select and train the US gymnastics teams for the Olympics and World Championships.

While they have safeguards and protocols designed to keep gymnasts safe from predators, "there clearly was a collapse at some point," Lawrence said.

"There has to be a different governing body," he said, "because that's broken."

"I sent an email and called USA Gymnastics and asked them to revoke our membership," he said, although he has not responded. I still heard an answer.

According to the USA Gymnastics website, The Children & # 39; s Gym is one of 20 in the Portland area that are USA Gymnastics. Many of the other gyms train athletes for competitions. For those gyms, getting rid of USA Gymnastics is more difficult.

"It's a difficult issue," Paul Rawlings, owner and head coach of the South Washington Gymnastics Academy in Vancouver, said on Thursday. Your gym has 65 competitive athletes.

"If you are going to be a gym that competes you have to be a gym sanctioned by USAG, every gymnast has to pay a membership, every competition has to be sanctioned," he said. "All these rates go to this governing body that has not necessarily protected children the way it should."

Denise Nontavarnit is a team director and coach at Westside Dance and Gymnastics Academy in Tigard. She estimates that her team has around 130 competitive athletes.

"We are in a state of shock," he said. "It has been very conflictive to support an organization that we do not believe supports the philosophy we have."

Nick French, general manager of the USA Gym Clubs in Portland, said on Thursday that his gym has been a member of USA Gymnastics for 19 years.

"We are a competitive club," said French. "Unless the news has changed, USA Gymnastics remains the governing body of the US Olympic Team. Unless that changes, we have no plans to change."

"They are the only road at this time to the US Olympic Team," French added, "in terms of local clubs."

Rawlings disagrees with the way USA Gymnastics handled the Nassar case, but he believes that gymnastics needs a governing body.

"I think what" What I will do as a gymnastic community is to press them, "he said." There have already been many resignations. "

Nontavarnit said that he has been talking to other coaches about how they can respond to the situation and what will be the final result.

"We talk about it almost daily," he said. "We have to do something to take action and I'm not sure what that is."

Meanwhile, the gyms are taking the initiative to maintain athletes safe.

Rawlings said in his gym that the protocols are in place that does not allow athletes to be alone with a single adult.Coaches can no longer send text messages to a child. included in those messages.

"It's about protecting the business," he said, "and making sure there's no gray area."

In his email, Lawrence described the "zero" of the Children's # s Gym "tolerance policy regarding any bad c sexual abuse or ", along with" personnel policies, procedures and education that go beyond industry standards ".

These include, "background checks and appropriate examinations for personnel." projection of current employees, "and" required 2 or more employees / parents during any activity. "

Lawrence said over the phone that the gym already had a more detailed background check procedure than the one offered by USA Gymnastics.

" We applaud the brave women and men who have spoken out against the misconduct and the abuse against children, "said the email." We hope that you and your family continue to trust that we provide a safe environment for your children. "

More than 150 victims of Nassar spoke in statements of impact to the victims before be sentenced to 40 to 75 years in prison on Wednesday, however, before beginning that sentence, Nassar will serve a 60-year federal sentence for child pornography crimes.

– Lizzy Acker

lacker@oregonian.com, @lizzzyacker

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