By Eric Erickson
Marv Rouse has been coaching gymnastics for 52 years. Many members of the Como gymnastics team are brand new to the sport. While they’re eager to take a run at the vault or swing on those uneven bars, Rouse urges caution: “Let’s start with a forward roll on the floor.”
Girls’ gymnastics at Como Park High School is a winter sports activity that accepts all-comers. The most important prerequisite is a willingness to learn. In a sport such as gymnastics, the learning curve can be steep for someone who’s never tumbled before, let alone flown through the air before landing squarely on their feet.
While Rouse has been a constant for the Cougars, providing technical and practical instruction for all levels of skill and being the gymnastics guru, head coach Jill Bachmann is in her fourth season leading the program. She’s enjoying this season more than others due in large part to increased participation.
Numbers in the last couple of seasons have been in the single digits. This year, fifteen girls showed up for an informational meeting, and on the first day of practice — they were all there! The girls have become a close-knit crew with an extremely supportive and joyful chemistry.
“They are very dedicated and willing to try things. They are close with each other, have great attitudes, and listen well,” Bachmann said.
In tandem with Rouse’s thinking, Bachmann has her team of mostly all beginners becoming comfortable with basic gymnastic movements on the floor. Everyone starts there — on a forgiving padded surface at ground level.
In a sport that has four events in which competitors can score points for their teams (floor exercise, balance beam, vault and uneven bars), having the majority of your roster limited to one event means the Cougars aren’t winning any meets. Which is fine, because that’s not the goal yet.
“Our season goals are to get all of the girls performing on at least one apparatus. In years past we’ve had girls practice beam, vault and bars, but when it came time to compete, they would not be willing to,” Bachmann said.
“This year is very different. We have numerous girls who are eager to perform. We tell the girls to work on making personal bests and not worrying about the other teams. But everyone likes to win.”
There are a couple of Cougar gymnasts who might be in a position to compete and win some recognition at an individual level. Sophomore Amelia Christ has been involved with a gymnastics club since a young age and is experienced in all four events. Her coaches say she’s got a great shot at placing in the top tier of the St. Paul City Conference in multiple events and the all-around competition.
Christ has been a wonderful addition to the Cougars this season. As a freshman, she was still doing her club gymnastics during the winter so state high school league roles forbade her from participating. This year, she’s enjoying her new teammates at Como and says it’s been fun to have new friendships at school.
“I think it’s been a great choice to be part of Como’s team,” Christ said. “I like seeing my teammates during the day and I may not have ever met them without gymnastics.”
Her coaches admire the camaraderie she has with the other girls, and appreciate the fact that when the team is with each other outside of practice or meets, you’d never know who the star athlete is.
With Christ earning a huge portion of the team’s points, it’s the beam in particular where she shines. “The beam is my favorite. I guess it’s because it’s what I’m best at,” Christ said.
Freshman Laura Blumenfeld is another point-earner in meets for the Cougars. She does two events; the vault and the beam. Blumenfeld explained that what she likes best about the vault is “flying. I love the feeling of flying.”
She feels like she’s improving in both of her events, thanks in large part to coaching. “Our coaches know a lot. And they’re nice. Coach Marv has been doing it for so long. He’s helpful,” Blumenfeld said.
She also says her teammates are helpful. As a freshman, everything about Como is new to Blumenfeld, so to have a team of support has made the transition to high school easier. “My team is always so positive and so supportive.”
The team is extremely young overall, which in the Cougars’ situation, is an extremely positive thing. Coach Bachmann explained, “We haven’t had a program that has won meets in the past. Hopefully with continued dedication this season and into next, we can be a competitor.”
The youth stretches down to three middle-schoolers who bus over from Murray after their school day: Alyssa Aarthun, Emma Osbourne, and Birgitta Sandstrom-McGuire. Freshman gymnasts in addition to Blumenfeld include Tasha Carter, Rita Frenesi Deloya, Amelia Hernandez, Isabella Hernandez, Isadora McGinley Myers, Jennifer Rosas, and Eva Larson.
There are three sophomores including Christ, Lilly Klett, and Sophie Lancaster, along with two juniors who are Paw Say Wah and Minnie Her.
As the Bugle went to press, the Cougars were still without a win against an opponent. That has not diminished the joy of their gymnastics journey in the slightest.
Amelia Christ noted, “We like gymnastics because it challenges you. Even if you’ve been doing it your whole life, it challenges you to try new things and try to get to the next level.”
No matter what their scores have been, the Como girls’ gymnastics program is taking advantage of the opportunity right in front of them to improve, and work to become a competitive team.
Eric Erickson is a social studies teacher at Como Park High School and a longtime coach of school and youth sports in St. Paul.
Photo Caption: Coach Marv Rouse and members of the Como Gymnastics team look on as freshman Laura Blumenfled practiced her balance beam routine and sophomore Amelia Christ worked on the uneven bars. (photo by Eric Erickson)