Friday, January 23, 2004


Last night I went to a gymnastics meet at my old high school.

I went to a two-campus high school. I went to Morton West, but the gymnastics team trained and competed at Morton East. From October through February I had to go over to the East campus every day after school to work out. I have been inside Morton West once since I graduated. This was my first time back at East.

Earlier in the afternoon I was on the phone with one of my former teammates who was going to meet me at the meet. We talked about how it's been so long since we've been there that we were afraid we wouldn't be able to find the gym. The gymnastics team now competes in a different gym than I did. The wrestling team trained and competed in the gym where the gymnasts are now. I wonder if the wrestlers are in our old gym.

As soon as I walked in I remembered the building well. I walked up the stairs to the balcony gym. As I walked across I could see into the main gym, where the boys basketball team plays and where I used to tumble in assemblies. They changed the logo on the middle of the floor. They had much nicer championship banners, although there were no recent championships. It looked so different, yet the same.

I ended up watching the meet with two of my former teammates, while another former teammate was coaching the team. They have much nicer leotards and warm-up suits now, which made us all jealous. Their floor exercise mat also has a spring floor, which weren't allowed when I was competing there. Jealous. Up until I started high school I always trained on a spring floor, so going down to a thin mat was quite a change.

One of my teammates brought old pictures, both from when we competed together for a private club (before high school) and when we were both on the high school team. There was a picture of me holding the astronaut Cabbage Patch Kid I forgot I had, and that is probably still at my mom's house somewhere. Pictures of awards podiums with us on them. Pictures from the team bus in high school. One of our coaches, the only one to ever keep check on my weight, covered in silly string. He passed away a few years ago of a heart attack while on a rafting trip.

We recognized a teacher from our campus, though neither of us ever had him as one of our teachers. It took me a long time to remember his name. Mr. Gaffner. I think he was a good guy. I don't remember hearing anything bad about him. I found out he had a daughter who was a gymnast who competed for another high school. He was at this meet because some of his students were on the team, and I assume that since he had a daughter in the sport he probably just enjoys it. He reminded me of my ex-boyfriend Don, the one who lived in Canada. He was a high school teacher and loved going to the sporting events to support his students, whether they were competing for the high school or for commuinity hockey teams. I remember being thrilled if my teachers were at my meets, or watch us perform at assemblies and then later tell me that they didn't realized I could do that and how impressed and proud they were. I think that's a good thing for students to see, teachers who care about what they do both inside and outside the classroom.

I was reminded about why the public school system is so great, and what is actually in peril right now as funding drops all over. We never had gymnstics tryouts. Anyone who wanted to be on the team could, even if they had never done gymnastics before. They were always able to get enough uniforms and enough insurance (gymnastics is an expensive sport to insure) for everyone. I remember when I was on the team, there were always some girls who came out who couldn't even do cartwheels. I would watch them for a few years, learning harder things. Maybe the most difficult skill they ever learned on floor ex was a back walkover, which is really novice. But to start a sport like gymnastics as a teenager, that's a big accomplishment. It is so much easier to learn that as a child. Girls who were afraid to walk on a 4-foot-high balance beam were doing cartwheels on it their senior year. They accomplished something and were proud of themselves. Their parents and friends were proud of them. I didn't matter that they weren't good enough to be on varsity. I liked working with them when I was on the team. I didn't vault after my sophomore year, so when the varsity team would practice vaulting I would go work with some of the freshman or newer gymnasts on their dance for floor ex or their balance beam routines. Everyone on varsity spent time helping them. Well, to be honest, we sort of had to. When there are 30 girls in a gym, 2 coaches isn't enough. But we didn't mind. We liked it, at least I think most of us did. I always felt good when I would teach them a new dance move that got incorporated into a routine, or a tumbling skill that they did by themselves, without a spot, for the first time when I was the one working with them. I almost felt better when they learned a basic skill than when any of us on the varsity team learned a more advanced one. I remembered the times when anyone on the team would learn something new, and the coaches would stop practice so all of us could watch and applaud the accomplishment. Last night, it was nice to see those newer gymnasts smile about their performances.

Oh, and a janitor recognized us! We didn't even go to school at that campus, we were only there for gymnastics, and he recognized us. I don't think he remembered our names, but he remembered us.

The team is better now than it was when we were there. I was really glad to see it. I went to an away meet a few years ago, and the team was horrible. It really had gone downhill. But they were so much better now. The JV team, although they lost last night, got their highest score of the season. And varsity won by only .15. It was a conference meet. When I was competing, that team was the best in the conference. I don't know if they still are because I haven't seen any of the other teams, but it was so nice to see a Morton team beat them. It's too bad it was the last meet of the season, because I want to go to more. Conference is coming up, then the tournament meets. Perhaps I can con my mom into going to the state meet or an NCAA one next month.


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