Forsyth County Championship
When: Saturday, 10:30 a.m.
Where: BIO Gymnastics (1180 Samples Industrial Dr., Cumming)
Who: Forsyth Central, Lambert, South Forsyth, West Forsyth
Forsyth Central gymnastics coach Laurie Karickhoff could pen a manifesto on the logistical issues high school gymnastics teams face on a regular basis. Filling schedules with team meets is nearly a sport in itself, girls often are unavailable for team competition because of scheduling conflicts with club events, and most public schools are pinching pennies, compared to private institutions with necessary endowments, when it comes to facilities and equipment.
“It’s a balancing act,” Karickhoff said, pun admittedly intended, of the challenges involved with being a high school gymnastics coach.
Though for Karickhoff and the other high school coaches in Forsyth County, this weekend’s challenge will resist the narrative that club gymnastics might reign supreme.
On Saturday, Central will defend its unofficial title as county champions in the third annual Forsyth County Championship, hosted by South Forsyth at BIO Gymnastics. Lambert, which placed third in state last year, will be Central’s toughest competition; South and West Forsyth hope to turn heads too, but for South coach Kelly Lamb, the significance of the meet transcends score results.
Rather, Lamb sees the event as an opportunity to establish geographical intimacy in a sport that doesn’t have organized regions under the Georgia High School Athletic Association (GHSA).
“The community aspect is huge,” Lamb said. “We’re not going up against any faraway schools the girls aren’t familiar with. I think it does mean more that the girls get to compete against those they’ve grown up with.”
For any high school team in the GHSA to be eligible for state prelims, teams and individuals must compete in at least three meets. Often individuals are sent to meets by themselves to meet that requirement, and those meets generally don’t include a lot of familiarity. Essentially, the matchups and competitors in the field are a mixed bag, all desperately trying to secure eligibility for state.
“Scheduling for gymnastics is very difficult compared to other sports,” Lambert coach Avery Baxter said.
The Forsyth County Championship bucks that trend. It will even more this year. All four programs have chipped in to order a championship trophy, and the seniors for each squad will be honored as part of Saturday’s festivities. The coaches will even collaborate to announce an all-county team for the first time.
Karickhoff believes adding pageantry to the event will make it a greater priority for the future.
“We don’t really have that many home meets. Every other sport has a senior night, but not everyone really gets together to recognize all of the senior gymnasts at one time, so we think that’s going to make it special,” Karickhoff said.
Karickhoff has been the gymnastics coach at Central for eight years, though this event still puts her on edge.
“It makes me nervous, honestly. It’s not a GHSA sponsored championship, but it feels like it is. These girls all know each other so the bragging rights are a big deal,” she said.
Maddy Sims, one of South’s captains, stays in close contact with Lambert’s Katie Stuart, who won bar and floor at state last season. Both are part of the same club as Level 10 gymnasts. On Saturday they’ll be a few of the favorites to score highest for their teams.
“We don’t really bug each other,” Sims said. “We’ve been competing together for a while, so we’re very supportive of one another.”
“One of the things that makes this competition so special is you will actually see the girls on different teams cheering for friends on other teams,” Lamb said. “All of the girls realize how difficult the sport is. If you’re a gymnast in high school you’re probably also a survivor of injuries and hours of practice too.”
While Sims and Stuart lead their respective squads, MacKenzie Miller brings state championship pedigree to Central, along with senior leader Sarah English, who competed in the first two Forsyth County Championships.
“Definitely since I was a freshman to now the sport has become a lot bigger, people appreciate it more, and the teams are getting better,” English said. “But gymnastics in high school is more about having fun, family feelings, it’s not as judgmental.”
Central’s title defense will commence without another state performer from last year in Macie Winter, who’s been sidelined with mono, and Karikhoff’s daughter, Annie, who broke her foot at the beginning of the year.
“Every time we’ve met Lambert they’ve been missing a few girls,” Karickhoff said. “Lambert probably wants it really bad this time around.”
Medals will be given to the top three competitors for each event on Saturday, another first for the Forsyth County Championship.
West coach Ashley Owen started the school’s gymnastics program in 2010. She’s watched as gymnastics has found its footing in the county and hopes the Forsyth County Championship creates momentum for the brand of the sport. West already has two girls qualified for state prelims in Amanda Murgash and Aundria Crittendon.
“The biggest thing is getting awareness out to the community about the sport,” Owen said. “We’ve got a lot of really great girls who deserve the recognition for the work they put in.”