This collection is dedicated to Mary Jones Sarver and Lee Renier Bjella
Mary started this history years ago, passing it to Lee in 2001. It was then passed to me (Chrystal) in 2018, and it continues to be a work in progress. (Please send any information you have!)
Many many thanks to Jerry Penney for prodding Mary to delve into the history of Washington girls high school gymnastics history.
Mary put together a booklet which she gave to Karen Wisen, who passed it on to Lee when learning of her love of history.
After Lee’s death, it was passed on to me. I hope I can do it the justice it deserves.
Table of Contents
Mary Jones Sarver: (died Jan. 26, 2004)
"In 1998, Jerry Penney of Sammamish High School and the W.I.A.A. (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) requested that I write down what I remember about the development of the Girls High School Gymnastics in the state of Washington."
In 1955, Mary graduated from Western Washington University. She then went to Denmark to the Gymnastic Folk High School, and returned to Washington a year later, where she worked at Highline Junior High School and with Ev Woodward in gymnastics.
In 1958, Mary moved to Highline High School, where she had the first high school team. She competed in AAU in Canada in 1959.
Mary went to George Lewis at the Seattle YMCA for help .
She led clinics and workshops, and she was an instructor and co-director of Gym Kamp (Camp Waskowitz).
She also taught at Highline Junior College and was an outstanding teacher of folk dancing.
Mary attended the first National Gymnastics Conference and wrote in the first Gymnastic Guide Book. She also wrote the Beam section of Gymnastics for Girls, the 1963 book by Eric Hughes. In addition, Lee Bjella noted that Mary wrote the Floor Exercise section of DGWS Gymnastics Guide, June 1963-1965.
Mary was inducted into the WSGCA Hall of Fame in 1998 and the USAG WA Hall of Fame in 2004.
Lee Renier Bjella: (April 30, 1955 - March 20, 2016)
Originally from Duluth, Minnesota, Lee attended Bemidji State University in Bemidji, MN. She competed on the gymnastics team there, as well as one year at the University of North Dakota, where she was named MVP in 1978.
Lee returned to Bemidji with her husband and finished her fifth year at BSU, graduating with a degree in Physical Education, with minors in Art and Health and a Coaching Certificate.
She was the assistant coach of the gymnastics team in 1978 and head coach in 1979, but retired from coaching to raise her children and focus on judging. (Lee started judging gymnastics in 1974.)
The Bjella's moved to Washington State in 1985, where Lee continued to enjoy judging and became an integral part of our state.
In 2008, she completed a Certificate in Web Design from Everett Community College.
(Note from Lee: Dr. Eric Hughes, highly successful Men's Gymnastics coach at UW and also of the 1972 Olympic USA Men's Gymnastics Team, started the gymnastics program at Bemidji State Teachers College in 1948. He has a chapter in this history and I am indebted to him for his friendship and input in these chapters.)
Lee's interest in gymnastics history started with a search for the roots of American gymnastics. That led her to looking at how the sport began in other parts of the world, and then in Washington State. As she looked at early 20th century gymnastics in America, she found names of people who influenced people that live (or lived) here in our state. These people in turn, influenced gymnastics in Washington, as well as the region and country. She was intrigued by the past and how much she did not know about most of these people and what they had done for the sport of gymnastics. She understood that she had a lot to learn, and that everyone has his or her own gymnastics story, be he/she a gymnast, coach or judge.
Lee's search for information greatly increased her respect for all the knowledgeable people in this state, and their love and dedication to the sport.
Mary Sarver’s paperwork landed in her hands thanks to Karen Wisen - another Washington gymnastics pioneer and our first Brevet judge - and she began to delve into all areas of Washington gymnastics history.
As she went through each layer of gymnastics history, she imagined what it would have been like in “the old days”. She imagined that each athlete, through the ages, experienced the same frustrations, joys, sprains and rips. Can you close your eyes and remember what it was like (if you were a gymnast) to chalk up, and psych up for a move you really wanted to get? How about those horse hair mats and Rueter boards?
Each athlete that has competed should realize that we have camaraderie with every other gymnast, and a mutual love of the sport along with other gymnastics enthusiasts whether they are coaches, judges, parents, club owners or spectators.
Lee shared three quotes concerning history and the recording and remembering of the past that had an impact on her.
- From the book Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horowitz: "People like me, we're keepers of the past." (from Lee: I feel that I am a little bit of a keeper of the past but it is strangely difficult to get people to write down their memories.)
- "History is lived forward but it is written in retrospect. We know the end before we consider the beginning and we can never wholly recapture what it was to know the beginning only." ~C.V. Wedgwood, English Historian
- Gerald George, PhD, former gymnast and author of Biomechanics of Women's Gymnastics wrote, "...the younger gymnastics community does not have a complete perspective on the total gymnastics picture in America... the seeds were planted by a few men of great forsight..."
When originally compiling this history, Lee wrote, "I would like to thank the gymnastics community in Washington State for their contributions to this sport, and especially to Mary Sarver for the work she did in putting together the initial Washington State History of Gymnastics of which I am expanding upon. In the future, I hope that someone will take over and update what is being put together now. Thanks to all who contributed information and pictures. Without all these people – there would be no history!"
"In the future, I hope that someone will take over and update what is being put together now."
That is what Lee Bjella wrote when she originally added this history to our website. I am the someone who has taken over for her. I truly hope I can do it justice in the way it deserves.
I grew up in Southeast Louisiana, and moved to Washington (along a multi-stop path) in 2005 with my husband and two daughters.
While I always loved gymnastics and can remember wanting to "do gymnastics" since childhood, I did not have that opportunity. I came to the sport as a parent, which led me to being a coach and now a judge.
I have always had a love of history. I started keeping a scrapbook at a very young age, and now I am an avid scrapbooker, primarily because I see it as documenting history.
It is my honor to continue the work that Mary Sarver and Lee Bjella started. It is a massive undertaking, and I hope that I can continue it half as well as they did.
Because I didn't grow up in the sport or in this state, I will need lots of help for this to be a complete work. Please send all historical information (ancient or recent) you may have.
PLEASE SEND ANY INFORMATION that you feel would be of value to this history to Chrystal.
Many photos included in this website are from Mary Sarver's original manuscript. Others are noted or from personal files.