Gymnastics News Network
By: Eileen Patchey
Since Shannon Welker took over control of the Missouri gymnastics team beginning with the 2013-2014 season, eight Missouri gymnasts have left the team for non-injury concerns. Missouri led the SEC in non-injury related departures in both the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons, and has one of the highest rates in the SEC to date. To be considered for this statistic, an athlete had to have either transferred schools or left for unclear reasons. If an athlete left the team for reasons like career-ending injuries, academic issues or left the team but stayed as a manager, they were not included in this statistic.
In the past three seasons, Missouri has lost Anna Bowers, Rachel Henderson, Lark Pokladnik, Rachel Updike, Sasha Sander, Jordyn Doherty, Kelli Martin and Storee Yzaguirre. The departure of these athletes was stated as “personal reasons” or “pursuit of other interests” by Coach Welker, however the gymnasts say that’s not necessarily true. Athletes being removed from a team isn’t abnormal, especially during coaching changes, but the former gymnasts say this situation is different. They say that they had problems with Welker’s coaching and saw issues no matter whether the woman was a walk on or a star athlete.
Lark Pokladnik was on the team from 2013-2014 and says she felt Welker created an uncomfortable environment for his team.“There was not a day that I walked into the gym excited to be there. Every day I went in I was like, ‘What torture am I going to experience today?’” Pokladnik said she immediately ran into problems with Welker’s coaching style. For their first away meet at Alabama in 2013, she was told there wasn’t space on the flight; however, she said, she remembered an injured athlete and a team media person being taken instead of her.
“He was definitely intentionally trying to keep me out. Like, just to get me off the team. Just to say that there wasn’t proof that I was contributing,” Pokladnik said.
After competing in some anchor positions for MU, Pokladnik said, she was called into Welker’s office for end of year meetings where she learned she would no longer be on the team. “He told me that I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t try hard enough and that I wasn’t a good fit for the team. You know how hard I work, you know what I came in here to do and everything you just said was not true. He had nothing to say. He basically sat there and almost nodded his head at me in agreement,” Pokladnik said. Pokladnik said Welker told her she had a spot as a walk on, but she declined the offer and transferred to Iowa State the following season.
Yzaguirre performed in exhibition twice and once scored a 9.775 on beam. She said her coaches, especially Welker, took notice. “He told me at one point last year that I had the potential to have one of the best beam routines in the NCAA.”
But Yzaguirre’s future in gymnastics changed in the summer of 2016 when she noticed an incorrect charge in her bank account in June. According to court documents, the financial charge came from Morgan Porter, Yzaguirre’s teammate on the gymnastics team and former roommate. At first, Yzaguirre said, she couldn’t believe Porter was connected with the charge. After approaching Porter, she went to coach Welker who told her he “He wanted to have us handle this internally,” Yzaguirre said. Yzaguirre’s mother also emailed Mizzou Compliance asking about the situation. Representatives from Missouri’s athletic department and student conduct departments were in touch with Yzaguirre. Sarah Reesman, Missouri’s athletic director at the time, was also involved in these conversations.
As the summer passed by with little change on the situation, Yzaguirre was preparing to compete in the upcoming 2016-2017 season on the beam, where she said Welker had previously told her she would be featured. However, Yzaguirre said her next meeting with Welker took an unexpected turn. “We had another conversation and immediately, basically just told me that I was never going to compete, and he wasn’t going to let me and if I wanted to do college gymnastics that I couldn’t do it here at Mizzou. I was released from the team about two and a half weeks before school started, kind of leaving me without time to transfer,” Yzaguirre said.
Yzaguirre said she saw no other option but to file a police report. Prosecutors then filed charges accusing Porter of misdemeanor Fraudulent Use of Credit/Debit Device over $500.00. Months later, Porter pleaded guilty to misdemeanor passing of a bad check. Porter received probation and community service from the courts. She was given a small suspension by Missouri gymnastics and allowed back on the team, while Yzaguirre was removed.
Several athletes said once they were injured, Welker would either force them to compete or cast them aside. For former Missouri gymnast Jordyn Doherty she dealt with both situations as a Missouri gymnast from 2014-2015. Doherty landed awkwardly at a scrimmage and tore ligaments in her foot. She said, even though her foot was black and blue and in a boot for a month, Welker didn’t relent. “I was trying to get across to Shannon that ‘I can barely walk. Like I really need you to work with me here,’” Doherty said.
Doherty didn’t compete in the 2014-2015 season because of her foot injury. She had made it to the end of year banquet, and she said the coaching staff spoke highly of her return. “At the banquet in front of my friends, my family, my teammates, staff, [Coach Welker] said, ‘We’re so excited to have you, Jordyn, back. She’s gonna be a great aspect to the team when her foot is healed,’” Doherty said. A few days later, Doherty said, she was called into Welker’s office where he told her she was removed from the team. “There was no reason behind it. He said ‘I don’t have words. I don’t know what you want me to say,’” Doherty said.
In a phone call recorded by Doherty’s family, Doherty asked Welker why she was removed. Between long pauses, he mentioned that they didn’t see eye-to-eye on objectives and there was an issue with her attitude. His response ended with “You know, I don’t know what you want specifically on there.”
Athletes inside the gym said extreme pressure made them adopt harmful dieting habits. Doherty said the pressure pushed her to extreme lengths. “I was going to the extent of taking laxatives and not eating. And when I was eating, I was eating celery, and I don’t like celery at all. But I was holding my nose just to get celery down just to get something in my body,” Doherty said.
Doherty and Pokladnik left the team following a decision from Welker, but Updike chose on her own to leave the team.
“I could see the way he treated other girls. I knew it wasn’t right.” said Rachel Updike who starred at Missouri from 2011-2014. Updike – an All-American and one of MU’s most decorated gymnasts – walked away from the gymnastics team before her final senior season. She attempted to transfer schools after leaving the team, but Mizzou Athletics barred her request. Updike also said Welker attempted to have her sign a contract detailing the amount of events she would perform in during the gymnastics season. After she left, Welker said in interviews that Updike had “personal reasons” to leave. “He knew why I wasn’t on the team anymore. It was because I wouldn’t sign that contract. That’s the only reason why I wasn’t there,” Updike said.
When asked their thoughts about the Missouri gymnastics program, the answers were straightforward.
Pokladnik said, “I remember a girl from my club team who was visiting Missouri for like an opportunity to go there and I remember like texting her and being like ‘Do not go there.’”
Doherty said, “To the recruits that are coming in, don’t. Don’t even try. Go somewhere you’re gonna have an amazing experience. Go somewhere where you’re gonna get that because you’re not gonna get that here, not with Shannon.”
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Source: KOMU TV
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