Can the average Bugle reader guess the number of winter sports teams your neighborhood high school features? If you’re trying, you may have already listed hockey for the boys and the girls, as well as basketball for both genders.
Perhaps a drive on Lexington Parkway reminded you the boys and girls Nordic teams are out there skiing. Back inside the warmth and humidity of the school pool, the boys swim team is making waves. Down the hall, the wrestlers are grappling and getting fit.
Add the gymnasts, and the grand total is nine. You can find the girls gymnastics team in the Como Park Senior High School field house, where you’ll also find a large floor mat with apparatus on the side. This is home base for a group of 25 girls who have been balancing, vaulting, springing and swinging every day after school since Nov. 11.
Some of the girls are veterans who have been training at clubs or in community programs for years. Others are new to organized gymnastics, choosing to learn new skills and become part of a supportive family.
Como gymnastics coach Kirstyn Ouverson is in her third year of teaching English at Como. It’s also her third year of leading the team. A 2008 Como graduate, Ouverson studied English and education at Bethel University. Trained as a classical ballet dancer at the St. Paul City Ballet, she is proud of the program she now administers.
“We have a dedicated team of girls that come together and support each other like a family,” she said. “We take chances, we work hard, and we teach each other. Everyone is able to join. We cheer for each other during meets, and generally aim to have fun and grow in our skills.”
The events of high school gymnastics are the same ones you see when watching the Olympics. The specialization and skill required for the beam, uneven bars, vault and floor exercise can seem overwhelming, but that’s where Como’s inclusive and supportive approach is beneficiary.
Girls can focus on an event or two, or go for it all and compete in the all-around competition. Ouverson fosters team themes of self-improvement and developing confidence.
She said she is blessed to have Como coaching legend Marv Rouse as an assistant.
A former acrobat and tumbler from New York (plus football and track star), Rouse led the Como gymnastics program for a couple of decades before retiring from teaching. Rouse’s technical knowledge and analysis allows the girls to make adjustments to their performances and routines.
Rouse said he knows style and presentation are in great hands with Ouverson. “Her dance background helps the girls a lot. She also works really hard and is a great role model for the girls.”
Team captains are junior Patsy Thayieng and senior Anna Blaine. “Patsy is a powerhouse on the floor, combining explosive acrobatics and fluid dance elements,” Ouverson said. “Anna is great on bars and gets a lot of height on her back tucks for floor.”
Senior Anna Fryxell is often the top-scoring gymnast and always competes in the all-around competition, doing all four events. Sophomore Josie Schermerhorn also competes in the all-around. Both athletes are described by their coaches as dedicated and focused leaders.
There are five varsity scores recorded for each event in the team competition. The next eight scores are counted for the junior varsity. With the different skill sets and events, there is opportunity for every team member to contribute to team scores in each meet.
The Como gymnastics veterans speak with pride about the meets. The support of each teammate in each event is what makes it possible for all the girls to represent Como in a sport that requires risk.
“I wouldn’t be able to get through it without my teammates,” Fryxell said. “When I’m standing alone on the beam being judged [in a meet], I feel comfortable taking risks because I don’t stand alone.”
Eric Erickson is a social studies teacher at Como Park High School who has coached a variety of school and youth sports teams in St. Paul over the last 20 years. Follow Twitter @eestp for current school sports news.