Little fans have big impact on Kent State gymnastics team

Sophomore+Michaela+Romito+signs+a+poster+for+a+little+girl+after+the+home+meet+against+BGSU+on+Sunday%2C+Feb.+21%2C+2016.

Sophomore Michaela Romito signs a poster for a little girl after the home meet against BGSU on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016.

Elise Kogelnik

Young fans rushed out of the stands in the M.A.C. Center after Sunday’s meet and waited anxiously for their turn to get an autograph from a Kent State gymnast. 

The Flashes sat behind a line of tables and took turns signing a Kent State gymnastics poster for every aspiring gymnast who came to see them compete.

Blaire Testa, 11, and Maddie Horning, 10, from a local gymnastics team were no exception. They save every autograph they get after the Flashes’ home meets.  

The signatures are symbols of inspiration for the little girls, but sophomore Brooke Timko said they mean something to the Flashes, too.

“I am the very last one to sign, so I am the one who gives (the little kids) their signed poster,” Timko said. “Their reactions are priceless. You would think I just gave them a million dollars by how happy they are and by the huge smiles on their faces. (It) make the sacrifices and hours we put into this sport all worth it.”

Senior Kayla Kosmerl said seeing the kids she has coached in the autograph line gives her a feeling of instant gratification. 

“I remember when I was little, if a college gymnast came to my gym at home I would freak out,” Kosmerl said. “Now you see them come to me and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ I’m just a gymnast, but they’re so excited to see me.”

Blaire met Kosmerl and junior Ellen Demarest at her gym, Gymnastics of Ohio. Many of the other young fans knew the Flashes as coaches from gymnastics camps and lessons.  

 Junior Jordan Hardison said coaching gymnastics is a rewarding experience.

“It’s so fun (to teach the kids),” Hardison said. “I like the little kids because you can really make a big difference and spot them through the skills and. when they learn something, they get really excited.”

Horning’s favorite part of the meets is watching Hardison compete.

“Hardison (is my favorite gymnast) because I like to see her,” Horning said. “When she lands it, she sticks it. I didn’t see her fall on anything, so I just kind of look up to her.”

Kent State alum Heather Trem coaches kids at Eastlake Gymnastics. Trem, who started the club gymnastics program at Kent State, said she brings her students to meets for motivation.

“I brought some of my team members today so they can see what they can possibly be,” Trem said. “They watch and see how good the (college gymnasts) are – how straight they are and how tight they are. It inspires them to get back in the gym and try their hardest to go fast and stay strong, just like Kent State.” 

Watching the Flashes compete teaches young gymnasts to stick their landings, but Denise Testa said it teaches her daughter, Blaire, how to recover from mistakes, too. 

Blaire went to the hospital after falling off the uneven bars last year and hasn’t wanted to get on them since. Denise said coming to Kent State’s gymnastics meets show Blaire that even when gymnasts fall, they get back up again.

“Hopefully this will bring some motivation to Blaire,” Denise said. “The one (gymnast from Bowling Green State University) fell off the bars and I’m like ‘Blaire, she fell! She went down and got right back up.’ It’s inspirational.”

The young fans have an equally big impact on the Kent State gymnasts.

Timko listens for the little girls in the stands before it’s her turn to compete because their voices calm her and remind her of her home, she said. 

 “It’s amazing how much (the little girls) look up to you,” Timko said. “I remember when I was little and I looked up to the ‘big girls’ and couldn’t wait to become one. They were my idols and I wanted to be just like them. To think I am a role model like that today is the greatest feeling.” 

Coach Brice Biggin said the team often discusses its responsibility to the kids who support it. 

“One of the things we talk to the team about all the time is being role models and how important it is as an athlete to be a role model,” Biggin said. “Especially in gymnastics because who you’re a role model to most of the time is young kids. If we want to bring kids to our meets and have them have a great time, then our (gymnasts) need to recognize (the kids in the stands) and make sure they go out of their way to be role models.”

Biggin said the Kent State gymnasts are great role models for his two young daughters, Addison and Alexandria.

“(Addison and Alexandria) love the team,” Biggin said. “I think they feel like they’re on the team. They look up to these gymnasts so much and (the team) knows that.”

Elise Kogelnik is a gymnastics beat reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]