The weeks leading up to the start of the season will be significantly less stressful this year for the gymnasts at Free State and Lawrence high schools.
With new Firebirds and Lions coach Jessica McMurray already in place, they won’t have to worry about whether they will be able to compete in 2012. At this time last year, the schools had no coach, and the programs were in jeopardy before a last-minute hire salvaged their seasons.
McMurray, originally from nearby Topeka, works at Lawrence Gymnastics Academy and coached two seasons at Denver East High. She was more than happy to fill the district’s need and hopes to provide some stability after the programs experienced a little turmoil. Taking over for the defending state champions at Free State isn’t too shabby, either.
“It really excites me that those girls were able to overcome and win state,” the new coach said.
Gymnastics and coaching, McMurray said, are in her blood. She competed at an elite level from the age of 6 until she was 14, and two of her three young daughters are avid gymnasts.
LHS athletic director Ron Commons was pleased to have McMurray on board.
“Her background and experience as a head coach is going to be beneficial to both schools,” Commons said.
FSHS athletic director Mike Hill agreed: “She just brings a lot of knowledge and energy, which will work really well with the kids.”
Through her work at LGA, McMurray already has met some of the gymnasts from both schools. She expects that will give her a bit of an advantage when practice begins in less than two weeks.
“Being the new coach is never easy, and some of the girls are seniors and juniors,” McMurray said, “so it was nice to have a chance to meet them and interact with them so it’s not all brand-new territory on the first day of practice.”
McMurray hopes to maintain Free State’s recent success while helping LHS catch up with the Firebirds by working on the Lions’ routines and building higher scores.
Both Hill and Commons were thankful they could keep gymnastics alive in Lawrence — especially, Commons noted, with LHS hosting the state championship meet on Oct. 20.