by Nicholas Thurkow-Schlund
Dust covers every surface, but it loves to congregate on every square inch of the Wallace floor. However, the dust doesn’t exactly dominate all the space. Expanding across the entire floor of the gym is the gymnastics equipment, with four groups of gymnasts waiting their turn for a tumble on the mat, or maybe the bars. Lovett gymnasts sport the blue and white leotards, and about twenty of them are all sitting cross-legged on the floor, cheering on their teammate as she glides and dances across the blue mat at their first meet on March 7.
For weeks now, they have been practicing in the gym, twisting, tumbling, turning, flipping, spinning, and falling. Well, maybe more falling than any of the others at times. Regardless of how many tumbles off the bar or beam, the girls’ gymnastics team always does a fantastic job of staying (or getting back) on their feet. Whether their equipment is set up in Westminster’s gym, the third floor of the MAC, or Glover, they’re always doing their best to add more flair to their tricks.
The gymnastics team, coached by Jill Melito, started practicing back on February 5th. At the time, however, there wasn’t as much space at Lovett as they would’ve liked. Grace Harrison, one of the seniors, said that they “had to practice at Westminster for a while. Basketball was doing really well this year, so we weren’t able to practice in the gym until their season stopped.”
Mrs. Melito coaches girls from 7th grade all the way up to 12th grade, all performing at different ability levels, and all practicing together. The seniors this year have been with Mrs. Melito since they were in 7th grade, and have in a way grown up with her.
There are 5 seniors this year, Kayla Adams, Mia Skaggs, Grace Harrison, Joanna Lummus, and Marilyn Boutte.
With Mia and Marilyn, the relationship goes back to kindergarten or first grade, Mrs. Melito told me.
The atmosphere in the gym is extremely relaxing and friendly, according to everyone involved on the team. The gymnasts, the manager, and the coach all agree that they work very well together and that they share a strong bond.
Kai Lacefield is the manager of the gymnastics team, but she’s also close and friendly with all the gymnasts. She said that “with the gymnasts, it’s just a really chill sport. It’s no-cut, so everybody’s there and I’m there. People will flip and do their dances but sometimes we’ll just sit and talk.” Kai managed basketball before, but her relationship with the players wasn’t nearly as personal with them.
Mrs. Melito sees it too. It can be intimidating and sometimes difficult to be friendly with people four or five years older than you, but everyone on the team manages it fairly well. She told me that she sees that “almost every year, my gymnasts are some of the nicest people. I don’t ever see girl drama, there’s nothing. They’re all great. Look at my seniors, the leadership from top is helping the littler ones and that helps them form good relationships with each other.”
The team isn’t focused on winning state titles or mercy-ruling other schools. The biggest goal, according to Mrs. Melito, is helping each individual improve their own trick in their own way.
It can be hard. Gymnastics is much like swimming or wrestling in that “it’s an individual sport but there’s such a team aspect to it,” as Mia put it. However, improvement on the individual level can really help improve the whole team in bigger ways.
Gymnastics meets only consist of four events, the floor, bars, vault and beam. Each of the events contains a routine and space for improvisation. The floor consists of dancing and tumbling to music; the bars have flipping and movement between two bars of different height; the vault involves sprinting and using a springboard to jump and flip over the vault; and the beam gives the gymnast limited space to perform their routine on a raised bar.
Luckily, the team features several gymnasts that can perform in every event. Joanna specializes in the vault, Grace on the beam, and Marilyn on the floor while Sarah Packman and Cameron Colavito are talented all-rounders.
Both the gymnasts and Mrs. Melito believe that they’re not world-beaters, but they want to improve every individual as much as they can. In fact, Mrs, Melito says that their weakness is actually a strength, as it helps to improve the relationship between the gymnasts and herself.
She said that “we’re not skilled enough, so every practice is just personal goals to get better. It forms a better relationship with the coach and gymnast just because your whole goal, as a coach, is just for them to get better at whatever their event is that they work on.” The positivity and wholesome attitude that the team possesses allows for a lot of improvement, both in their events and in their relationships with each other.
Everyone on the team has their own goals. For Mrs. Melito, it’s to help everyone achieve some personal bests and maybe a state qualifier. For Grace, it’s to fall less. They only have four times to gauge their success this season; the first was the meet I attended on Wednesday, March 7th at Lovett.
They may not be the most competitive gymnastics team in Georgia, but they sure seem to be one of the most positive and closest. As Grace puts it, “there’s so much support from your team.” Some of them may be falling off the beams right now, but everyone will be standing upright by the end of the season.