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Mike Burns needed some help tearing down the thing he loved.

On Saturday morning, he recruited Cris Lilligren and Warren Strootman, two underclassmen with the men's gymnastics club team at the University of Minnesota that Burns coaches. They were trying to position an extension ladder on top of a stack of tumbling mats inside Cooke Hall.

"That's actually pretty solid," Burns said, considering the setup with a hint of surprise.

Strootman stood in gym shorts on a parallel bar, the bulk of the ladder weight on him, defying physics.

They all looked to the ceiling where a set of rings that had to come down were anchored to a steel beam. Burns, in his rhythmic and thoughtful Massachusetts accent, noted that the metal contraption was going to swing loose with some force. They'd need to find some ropes to create a pulley system. Strootman and Lilligren hopped down and got to searching the gym.

Men's gymnasts at the U have been practicing inside Cooke Hall since the 1930s. Over the decades, they've created a pirate ship of a facility tucked alongside the sprawling Recreation and Wellness Center. But now, everything has to be out by June 16.

In February, the University of Minnesota asked the gymnasts and four other groups, including a coed gymnasts club, to write a one-page argument for using Cooke Hall. Ultimately the space used by the men's gymnasts was given to the diving team for its dryland training.

That continued a difficult streak for men's gymnastics at the U. In 2020, the program was cut, along with men's indoor track and men's tennis. The Board of Regents vote was contentious, passing 7-5.

The argument athletic director Mark Coyle made for ending the programs was that the Gophers needed to trim men's scholarships to get into Title IX compliance and that they needed to save money during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Burns coached the men's team for 17 seasons and helped develop a gym full of All-Americas and an Olympian. He has kept grinding in the wake of that decision — transitioning the team to a club sport, recruiting athletes, hustling side jobs and trying to keep the program afloat by any means necessary. The Gophers won the GymACT national championship in May, a club competition for college programs, edging Arizona State, dropped as a Division I program in 1993, and Washington, dropped in 1980.

Now Burns needs to find his team a new home.

Lilligren and Strootman tracked down some rope and started angling the ladder again. They maneuvered it under a conduit 30 feet in the air, and it landed with a thud against the beam. Ancient chalk broke loose and plumed. "Oh yeah!" they hollered.

The plan is to load as much the men's gymnastics gear as possible into a 53-foot trailer. It'll cost Burns $275 per month for the trailer and a few hundred more to store it. He's looking for some free parking to trim the costs. He has heard of space in Dassel on a friend's farm or at Midwest Gymnastics in Little Canada. He's scouting locations to try and build a new training facility that could also be the home for the U club team.

The club recently was approved to become a part of RecWell as a Campus Life Program, which gives them direct affiliation with the University of Minnesota. But Burns said there is no loose space for his gymnasts to practice. On Sunday, parents of several gymnasts started a letter-writing campaign to the U, the Board of Regents and USA Gymnastics looking for support for the club and an on-campus training site.

By Saturday, all the mats were already stacked to be carried out. The high bar was down. The ring tower was next.

It all begged the question: Why fight so hard to keep this program?

"Gymnastics has given me my entire career, my entire life," Burns said and paused. "Not that I want to define myself as what I do. But I define myself as what I do."

And with that, he climbed the creaking wooden stairs of Cooke Hall and got back to work ripping it apart.