CHICAGO — A picture on social media changed how Steen Haugsted felt as a gay man on the University of Illinois-Chicago men’s gymnastics team.
The picture showed Haugsted with his first boyfriend. It was posted on social media the summer after Haugsted’s freshman year.
A few days after it went online, Illinois-Chicago gymnastics coach Charley Nelson approached Haugsted at practice about the photo.
“He mentioned it — Who is that boy? — trying to tease me in a fun way,” Haugsted said. “In that moment, I kind of realized that I was going to be OK, and I didn’t have to worry about anything being there. I knew that he had my back. That he was there to support me.”
Haugsted instantly appreciated Nelson’s acceptance with that simple question and recognized he’d be treated the same as straight teammates.
“In that period of my life, I was still trying to be comfortable with being an out gay man, which is always hard,” Haugsted said. “Knowing someone … is just going to accept you is great.”
Haugsted gained confidence the following two years, and as a junior in 2018, he was named co-captain of the Illinois-Chicago Flames men’s gymnastics team.
On Friday, at the end of the first week of his senior year, Haugsted learned he may be one of the last gymnasts to experience that growth at Illinois-Chicago.
The university announced Friday that it plans to eliminate the men’s and women’s gymnastics programs after the 2019 season, which runs from January to April.
In a statement to the Chicago Tribune, Illinois-Chicago athletic director Garrett Klassy said: “This is the most difficult decision I have had to make in my career as an athletic administrator. I know that it impacts many people who have invested much of their lives into UIC gymnastics and our entire athletic department. However, this was a move toward progress that needed to be taken.”
Nelson and the women’s coaches were informed on Friday about a half hour before the athletes learned the program’s fate, according to the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
“It was a punch to the gut, and out of the blue,” Nelson said to the Daily Herald.
Haugsted said he has been angry, sad, mad and just confused since Friday.
“It just makes me upset that they would do that to such a good program at our school,” Haugsted said.
Illinois-Chicago men’s gymnastics, which celebrated its 70th season in 2018, owns the university’s only NCAA team titles, capturing Division II titles in 1978 and 1979. And in April, Illinois-Chicago hosted the 2018 NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Championships.
Haugsted was one of 25 athletes on the 2018 Illinois-Chicago men’s gymnastics roster, and none of those athletes are on scholarship.
“We are all here based off of passion,” Haugsted said.
There are 16 members of the women’s team, and some have partial scholarships, according to the Daily Herald.
Haugsted, who is 5-3 and 130 pounds, missed the final two months of the 2018 with a finger injury, and he said his mounting injuries contributed to him currently feeling it’s unlikely he’ll compete in 2019. But, he still will fight to save the program that means so much to him.
He wants future Flames to experience the thrill he felt placing fifth on parallel bars at the 2017 ECAC conference meet.
He wants future Flames to feel the support he and other LGBTQ athletes that he knows of felt competing for Illinois-Chicago gymnastics.
He wants future Flames to just have gymnastics.
“I’m so grateful for the experiences I’ve had on the team that allowed me to open up and feel free,” Haugsted said. “If you can find a program that will really improve you as a person, not just based on your gymnastic skills, it’s important.”
Steen Haugsted is a senior at University of Illinois-Chicago majoring in graphic design. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Instagram @steen.jpg
Names in bold are people that have announced publicly they identify as LGBTQ. Results are for competitions that took place Aug. 20-Sept. 3.
Joey Bonanno (senior, Ohio State men’s gymnastics) is one of three members of the Ohio State men’s gymnastics team named a captain for the 2018-19 season. The announcement was made Aug. 29.
Xavier Colvin (redshirt junior, Butler football) made three tackles in the Bulldogs’ 23-21 season-opening win against Youngstown State on Saturday.
Scott Frantz (redshirt junior, Kansas State football) started at left tackle in the Wildcats’ 27-24 season-opening win against South Dakota on Saturday. The Wildcats’ game Sept. 8 vs. Mississippi State is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN at noon ET. Kansas State’s game Sept. 15 vs. Texas-San Antonio is scheduled to be broadcast on FSN at 4 p.m. ET.
My-King Johnson (redshirt freshman, Arizona football) saw the Wildcats lose 28-23 to BYU in Saturday’s season opener. Arizona’s game at Houston on Sept. 8 is scheduled to be broadcast on ABC/ESPN2 at noon ET.
Bradley Kim (sophomore, Air Force football) saw the Falcons open the season with a 38-0 win against Stony Brook on Saturday. Kim is sidelined with an injury. Air Force’s game at Florida Atlantic on Sept. 8 is scheduled to be broadcast on CBS Sports Network at 2 p.m. ET.
Alexis Lewandowski (senior, IUPUI women’s cross country) said she decided to no longer run for IUPUI.
Ryan Signorino (senior, St. Bonaventure men’s cross country) ran a personal-record time of 18 minutes, 31 seconds in the 5-kilometer Little 3 Championship on Saturday.
Robbie White (redshirt junior, Northwestern men’s soccer) has not played yet this season as the Wildcats opened the season by going 2-1-1. The loss occurred Monday to No. 15-ranked Fordham, which won 3-2 in overtime.
Drew Davis (assistant coach, North Dakota State women’s volleyball) saw the Bison open the season 2-5 overall. North Dakota State won against Niagra and Western Carolina.
James Finley (head coach, Seattle women’s volleyball) led the Redhawks to open the season 3-3 the past two weeks.
Shawn McLaughlin (assistant coach, Alabama-Birmingham women’s volleyball) saw the Blazers go 5-2 to open the season.
Chip Rogers (assistant coach, Miami Ohio women’s field hockey) saw the Redhawks go 3-2 to open the season.
Jessica Smith (assistant coach, Kansas State women’s soccer) saw the Wildcats (3-1-1 overall) go 1-1-1 the last two weeks.
Arman Bashiri (senior, Bloomfield men’s soccer) started in midfield and attempted one shot in Saturday’s 1-0 season-opening loss to Bloomsburg.
Noah Ratliff (senior, Mercyhurst men’s water polo) saw the Lakers open the season 2-0.
Jake Van Ittersum (junior, Northwood football) started at offensive guard in Saturday’s 40-27 season-opening loss to Tiffin.
Lindsey Farrell (senior, McDaniel women’s soccer) scored the only goal in McDaniel’s 1-0 season-opening win Sunday against St. Mary’s.
Ian Johnson (junior, Montclair State men’s soccer) started on defense in two games as the Red Hawks went 2-0-1 to open the season.
Sam Johnson (junior, Whittier men’s soccer) missed the first two matches of the season with an injury, and the Poets went 1-1.
Craig Lauer (junior, Ursinus men’s cross country) ran a personal-record time of 18 minutes, 15 seconds over 5 kilometers during Saturday’s season-opening Bryn Mawr Invitational. Ursinus won the men’s team title.
Josh Moeckel (senior, Utica men’s cross country) opened the season running 25:36.8 in the 6-kilometer SUNY Polytechnic Invitational on Saturday.
Wyatt Pertuset (junior, Capital football) caught a 37-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter of Capital’s 59-21 season-opening loss to Mount St. Joseph on Saturday. Pertuset caught two passes for 44 yards. The touchdown reception is the first of his college career.
Taylor Reifert (senior, Pomona-Pitzer men’s soccer) started both matches and attempted a shot on goal as the Sagehens went 1-1 to open the season the last two weeks.
Cavender Salvadori (assistant coach, Johnson & Wales cross country) saw the men’s and women’s teams take third at Friday’s season-opening Colby Community College Trojan Invitational.
Eva Bower (sophomore, Milligan women’s soccer) made four saves and recorded a shutout in Sunday’s scoreless tie with Emory & Henry. Bower recorded a career-high 13 saves in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to North Greenville. For her play in those two games, Bower was named the Appalachian Athletic Conference Women’s Soccer Defensive Player of the Week. She has started in goal all three games this season as Milligan opened 0-2-1.
Cliff Hastings (head coach, Parkland women’s volleyball) and Ryan Hoppe-Hastings (assistant coach, Parkland women’s volleyball) led the Cobras to a 15-0 start to the season, and the team has only lost one set.
Erik Hall can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @HallErik or Facebook. If you are an out LGBTQ athlete or coach and want your accomplishments recognized, please email Erik.