THE JEFFERSON gymnastics program had no facility and only two team members last March when it began its inaugural season. Yet, through the determination of two athletes and a coach, the fledgling program already is making strides to becoming a full-blown force in Jefferson sports.
If you ask Lori Alexander about her experience in her first-year as a gymnastics coach, she might refer to herself as a “glorified administrator.” The cross-country coach and mother of a gymnast had relatively little experience in coaching gymnastics, but due to her “love of coaching,” the JHS administration approached her about starting the program.
“I guess they thought I would enjoy being part of a fledgling program that may or may not take off,” said Alexander. “It looks like it’s going to now.”
Alexander quickly began working with the squad’s two members, rising sophomore Elizabeth McMullan and upcoming senior Linsey Sunnycalb.
She quickly assumed the role of head coach, setting up meets, bar and vault settings and staying on the floor with her two gymnasts.
Both girls are experienced gymnasts and competed in multiple events at all meets.
McMullan began competing at age three and Sunnycalb started gymnastics in her fifth grade school year. Both had previously trained at Georgia Elite Gymnastics in Watkinsville under Pete Arenas.
The Dragons used the Watkinsville location as their training site in the spring and began preparing for their first official GHSA sanctioned meets.
“We just didn’t have the experience that most of the other (high school) gyms had,” said McMullan. “The scoring was different than what we were used to.”
Still, that inexperience did not halt McMullan. She competed in three GHSA meets to become eligible for the state qualifiers, where she placed in the top 12 and earned a spot in the state finals.
At the state competition at Westminster High School in Atlanta, McMullan shined as she took fourth place in the bars event and sixth place in the floor event – and she did it all with an injured leg, for which she underwent rehab for sometime after the season. Sunnycalb also competed in the regular season coming off of an injury, but both girls are healthy now and ready for the next season.
McMullan was named to the GHSA all-state team – a first for a Jefferson gymnast.
McMullan said she was honored to be awarded such an achievement and looks forward to competing again next year.
Next year, Alexander hopes to have three to five gymnasts to compete with, including last season’s team assistant, Addison Kelley.
“We are looking forward to growing the program and learned a lot this season,” said Alexander. “This was our first season together so it was a learning experience. All of the area coaches were extremely supportive and helpful as were the GHSA officials. It is a great opportunity to be able to take Dragon sports to this level of competition and with such a young and talented team. We have a lot to look forward to.”
Alexander feels that the Jefferson recreation department is helping to develop the foundation for JHS gymnasutics with summer camps and competitions.
“I am a firm believer in our recreation department and development program,” she said. “As a middle school (track) coach, I felt my job was to prepare our middle school athletes for high school programs. It’s awesome to see our recreation department as such a stepping-stone for our middle school and high school programs. It’s an exciting time in Jefferson sports.”
The Recreation Department Gymnastics program is treated just like any other athletic program offered. Jefferson does not need to partner with Commerce for something that is offered in the Jefferson Community.