Blue Jay gymnastics ‘did it right,’ paved the way for others – Jamestown Sun

Blue Jay gymnastics ‘did it right,’ paved the way for others – Jamestown Sun

Blue Jay gymnastics ‘did it right,’ paved the way for others – Jamestown Sun


JAMESTOWN — Rumblings of social change were rippling through the halls of Jamestown High School in the late 1960s.

“When I first started junior high, the only sports available to girls that I remember was track and gymnastics,” Barb (Mitchell) Bjorum said. “The only one that was school-sanctioned was track. The gymnastics team was under AAU and it didn’t become school-sanctioned until I was a junior.

“I can remember that a lot of girls wanted to get volleyball and basketball going. We were very aware that the boys had more sports than we did,” she said. “We talked about how it was unfair that the girls didn’t have as many opportunities to compete on a team as the boys did.”

Bjorum, a former gymnast for the Blue Jays and an inductee of the Jamestown High School Athletics Hall of Fame, reminisced on what life was like prior to the implementation of Title IX in 1972.

Title IX states:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Change in terms of girls athletics was just one of the far-reaching effects of the bill.

Title IX will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on Thursday.

“(Head coach Delores) Paulson had worked for so many years to establish the reputation of the gymnastics team,” Bjorum said. “She was a huge part of getting gymnastics sanctioned through the schools.”

1969 marked the first year the North Dakota High School Activities Association recognized gymnastics as a school-sanctioned sport. More than 180 girls took part in the meet sponsored by the North Dakota High School Activities Association.

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Barb (Mitchell) Bjorum competes on balance beam during a Jamestown High School gymnastics competition.

Contributed / Barb Bjorum

“It was very prestigious to be in gymnastics because the team was good,” Bjorum said. “We were kind of a united force and we wanted to be in gymnastics because the team was successful.

“We talked our friends into being in gymnastics because then we could hang out with everybody. A lot of us kind of came from the same group. I remember all of us getting along very well.”

Bjorum said the Jays’ gymnastics team consistently had around 30 people on the roster 50-some years ago.

Prior to the 1969 season, the Jays competed under AAU gymnastics, where they won three non-sanctioned state titles. The Jays went on to win back to-back NDHSAA-sanctioned state titles in Bjorum’s junior and senior years.

“We had the advantage of starting out at the top when I joined gymnastics,” Bjorum said. “This team was already winning State.”

Bjorum didn’t join the gymnastics team until eighth grade.

“I had Paulson as a teacher in seventh grade PE and I was walking through a park babysitting some kids one day and she was demonstrating something to the group of varsity team members who were working out,” Bjorum said.

“She saw me and she said ‘Barbie, come over here.’ I was tiny — probably 80 pounds and light enough for her to hold — and she used me to demonstrate the skill. After that she told me to come back the next day and that’s how I got involved.”

What Bjorum soon realized she had signed up for was year-round training for the next five years.

“When I started, the standard was already set very high,” Bjorum said. “If you were going to be on the gymnastics team, you worked as hard as you could. We put in tons and tons of hours.

“We worked out all-year round — a lot of sports didn’t do that.”

It wasn’t just the Jays opponents who recognized the skill and athleticism the Blue Jays brought to the table. Word of the team’s success was broadcast to the entire school.

“To be honest — the boys who were playing sports at the time — didn’t have the state championships that the gymnastics team consistently had,” Bjorum said. “When I was in high school I remember the gym being packed with people watching us because we were good and fun to watch.”

“Good” doesn’t quite capture the dominance of the Blue Jay gymnastics program emulated back when President Nixon was in the Oval Office.

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Barb (Mitchell) Bjorum was one of the most dominant forces for the Blue Jay gymnastics team during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Bjorum was inducted into the Jamestown High School Hall of Fame in October 2021.

Contributed / Barb Bjorum

At the inaugural-sanctioned State meet in 1969, the Blue Jays scored 197.9 collective points for a comfortable lead on runner-up Bismarck St. Mary’s 135.3 points.

Jamestown gymnasts earned two of three individual all-around titles. Valerie Boatright won the intermediate division crown while Bjorum easily took the junior division crown.

Bjorum said the Beginner, Intermediate and Junior divisions were previously in place under the AAU rules. The NDHSAA has since dropped the categorization.

In the individual events, Jamestown had 11 firsts, including five of six in the Junior division.

JHS notched four of six firsts in the Intermediate activity and managed to pull out sweeps of all six top positions in bars and vault at the 1969 meet.

Bjorum placed second in bars, first in vault and first on floor exercise in the Junior division. The future Hall of Famer was tied for third in balance beam.

Boatright was a winner in Intermediate balance beam and vault and was fourth in the Junior division uneven bars. She finished fifth in Junior floor exercise. Jamestown was competing without four firstrank gymnasts because of injury or illness.

The 1969 Blue Jay gymnastics team became the second-ever team inducted into the Jamestown High School Hall of Fame last October. The group of standout-gymnasts joined the 1974 Blue Jay girls basketball team. As of summer 2022, there are no boys teams that have been inducted into the JHS Hall of Fame.

While Bjorum and her teammates were really just kids themselves, they had the opportunity — much like the 1974 girls basketball team did five years later — to be role models and trendsetters for the next generation of female athletes.

“When we were on the varsity team, every summer we taught little kids from 4 years old and up,” Bjorum said. “I think gymnastics was one of the first groups to do that.

“When Delores Paulson was getting gymnastics started in the state, there was a lot of times where on a Saturday she would take what we called ‘the traveling team’ and we would go and do the workshop over in New Rockford and teach other high school kids moves in gymnastics. She was pretty progressive in that way.”

Since the first-sanctioned gymnastics meet 53 years ago, Bjorum said she has been pleased to see major strides have been taken in regard to equalizing the playing field and providing the same amount of opportunities and recognition to girl and boy athletes alike.

“When I was coaching gymnastics at Valley City, we shared a gym with the wrestling team and sometimes we would do conditioning together,” Bjorum said. “I was surprised at how many boys said ‘oh my gosh, this is so hard.’ I think they recognized that they were trying to do what we were doing and that it wasn’t easy.

“It was a slow process but (female athletics) got recognized. I think the pioneers did it right. They knew what to focus on and they knew what they wanted to do. They wanted to be the best that they could.”

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Barb (Mitchell) Bjorum was a member of the Blue Jay gymnastics team in the 1960s and 1970s. The team was one of the most Blue Jay teams in the history of athletics.

Contributed / Barb Bjorum

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