Ridgewood Gymnastics
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Dedication to one’s sport is something every athlete must possess. It’s also something coaches must possess.

Ridgewood High School gymnastics coach Karen Mendez is dedicated. She recently missed a day of school because she was sick. Her team had a competition that day, but she didn’t miss it. Mendez cheered her players on from the stands.

“She always makes sure she’s there for us,” said Nicole Granert, one of the team’s two freshmen.

Mendez, a Ridgewood alumnus and former gymnast, knows the demands that a gymnastics season is a grueling couple of months. Team activities begin at the end of August and competitions begin the second week of September.

The Maroons boast a 19-member team this year, including 10 sophomores. Five girls from each team compete in four events at competitions. Girls may compete in more than one event. The top three scores from every team count towards the team’s overall score for an event. The team with the highest total score wins that event.

“I think that it is better to have people on the team who are in it for themselves and for the team,” said Taylor Pedersen, a senior. “You always want to help the team out, but I think it’s good to be in competition against yourself. If you get an 8.5 you want to try to get an 8.6 in your next meet. You want to keep progressing and while you’re progressing you’re helping the team.”

Mendez encourages her players to continually try new tricks and develop new routines.

“We talk about higher jumps or more twists and we work those into a routine for the girls,” Mendez said. “It could take a day to get a skill or it could take a year or two to get a skill down. If you’re someone who easily gets down it’s hard to be a high-level gymnasts.”

It can be difficult sometimes for Mendez to watch one of her girls during a competition. She knows that she can’t really communicate much with them and help them out once a routine as started.

“It is frustrating because there isn’t that constant dialogue between a coach and a player. All I can do really is cheer them on,” Mendez said. “There are times when a girl worked so hard and they landed a trick five times the day before and they get to a meet and their foot slips and they lose half a point. That can throw off their entire routine.”

Having such a large team gives Mendez the opportunity to mix up lineups for each event.

“She really pays attention to who tries the hardest in practice,” said Sarah DeVita, a senior and co-captain. “She rewards people who try hard in practice with a chance to show off their routines in competitions.”

If a girl has done her floor exercise routine well that week in practice Mendez rewards that effort by putting that girl on the floor the next competition.

“We feel it is important to mix up ability levels. We have girls who have never done gymnastics before and we have girls who have been doing it for 13 or 14 years,” Mendez said. “We really like to mix up different talent levels, the different personalities.”

Winning is not in the forefront of Mendez’s, or the girls’, mind.

“It’s really the little victories that we celebrate,” Mendez said. “This is a team that is young and they’ve decided that they don’t want to put a limit on themselves.”

Mendez does not overburden the younger girls on the team. She wants them to become adjusted to performing and wants them to be safe.

“The freshman are always nervous coming in, they’re in a new school and on a new team, but they always fit right in,” Pedersen said. “We’re all like sisters. We do a lot of team building and bonding. Everyone likes each other so the atmosphere is always positive.”

“In a sport where one little thing can throw off a routine, we work on being polished and clean,” Mendez said. “We try to have fun and smile out there. We don’t put too much pressure on them, we just tell them to focus on the little things and to just go out there, try their best, and have fun.”

The girls have a great deal of respect for their coach, each other, and their opponents.

“We really appreciate each other,” DeVita said. “It’s easy to come to practice because we know that if someone is having a bad day, the rest of us are going to build each other up.”

The Maroons also cheer on their opponents, something that may seem foreign to participants of other sports, but not to these girls. The team helps their opponents by setting up and breaking down spring boards before and after a competition.

“We cheer for each other. We sit down and we watch everyone perform and we cheer for everyone so they feel good about doing gymnastics,” Granert said. “I personally like it a lot. When you hear someone from the other team is cheering for you, it makes you feel good.”

Cheering for the other team, helping with equipment, and demonstrating good sportsmanship go hand-in-hand with being a Maroon gymnast.

“This team, we’re a family. That’s how it was when I was a gymnast here,” Mendez said. “We consider all the other teams to be extended family so we’re going to do what we can to help the other teams. We will do whatever we can to help our extended family.”


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