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The best thing I saw last week: Camaraderie between rivals

This is a column from Jared Rubado. This does not necessarily reflect the views of the Forum News Service.

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Jerzie Horner, left, Gabby Whitworth, middle, and Avery McAllister celebrate McAllister's bars routine at the state Class A individual championships at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul on Feb. 19, 2022.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune
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One of the things that made me most nervous about taking this job was how good gymnastics is in this part of the state.

The Detroit Lakes and Perham gymnastics teams are revered around the state, and neither program is showing signs of slowing down. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting chances to cover teams at a state championship level, but I had zero experience with the sport before this season.

The Section 8A championship was the first gymnastics meet I’ve covered. I did go to the Jackie Mann Invitational in Perham, but since we are still short-staffed in our sports departments, I couldn’t stay until the end. Mix that in with some postponements and cancellations, and you end up being in my position.

I had a good idea of what to expect two Saturdays ago at sections. I followed both Detroit Lakes and Perham all year and did a fair amount of research on covering gymnastics. Over these last two weeks, I learned a lot about the sport, and I’m very excited to tackle more meets next season. But one thing I learned stood above the rest.

At the state Class A individual championships, I saw three championship-level programs openly rooting for each other to succeed. Detroit Lakes, Perham and Melrose is considered by many as three of the state’s best teams in Class A. They battle it out in duals and invitational all season just to have it come down to one day at sections.

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When teams see each other that much, the athletes begin to know each other personally. That can create really good friendships or develop into bitter rivals. It was apparent there is a strong connection between the coaches and gymnasts from the top three schools from Section 8A. However, I didn’t expect them to openly root for each other.

The best thing I saw last week is the genuine well-wishes between some of the best athletes in the state competing for their ultimate prize. There are too many moments to count where a Perham coach or gymnast would be overjoyed seeing a Detroit Lakes gymnast put up a big score. I saw Lakers and Yellowjackets wholeheartedly pulling for Dutchmen to do their best even though they were competing against each other. Detroit Lakes head coach Leesa Lindgaard’s voice was nearly gone by the end of the second day because she cheered hard for three different teams.

“We met a couple of years ago,” Detroit Lakes junior Gabby Whitworth said of the other gymnasts from Section 8A. “We all come to state together every year. Seeing them at sections and state all the time, it’s a lot easier to cheer for them. It’s a lot of fun when you’re cheering them on, and they’re cheering for you too.”

What makes this so noteworthy is knowing how intense this sport is. To have programs at this level means the gymnasts are committed to being the best year-round. That’s the culture established in these programs, and it shows every year at the state championships. For these kids to dedicate so much time to be good enough to beat these other girls, but also be able to put it all aside and cheer for them, takes a remarkable amount of goodwill.

“I feel like we’ve all competed against each other for a lot of years,” Perham sophomore Avery McAllister said. “That really helps. These individual state days really bring us all together. I see those girls as my teammates. I practice with some of the DL girls in the summer, so these girls are sisters to me.”

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Jared Rubado

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Jared Rubado is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus. He moved to the area in September of 2021 after covering sports for the Alexandria Echo Press for nearly three years. Jared graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with degrees in journalism and sports managment.
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