By KEVIN HARRIS
Jeffersonville High School has turned to one of its own to lead its gymnastics program this season.
Starla Brown-McFarland, a Jeff High graduate and a former member of the Red Devils’ gymnastics team, returns to her alma mater to coach at Jeff.
At the start of the school year, the Red Devil gymnasts conducted their own search for a new coach as Jeff High was having no luck finding a mentor. If the gymnasts did not find a new coach, there was a strong possibility that the team would not be competing during the 2012-13 season.
In late October, the gymnasts convinced Brown-McFarland to apply for the coaching post and she eventually got hired. Brown-McFarland feels honored that the Red Devils wanted her to be their coach.
“Before the season began, the girls worked together to try to find a coach for the team when it became apparent that the program might falter without a coach,” Brown-McFarland said. “I was more than happy when I got asked to step into that position. Certainly, this is a fantastic and passionate bunch of girls that go out to find someone to share their sport and to keep the Jeff High team alive.”
Despite having no experience coaching at the high school level, Brown-McFarland has more than 10 years of experience coaching cheerleading squads and competitive cheer teams. Emily Robinson is Brown-McFarland’s assistant coach.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to expand my experiences from cheer tumbling into the world of competitive gymnastics,” said Brown-McFarland, who has been involved in gymnastics as a competitor and/or a coach since she was 7 years old. “We have also gained the high school experience of our assistant coach, Emily Robinson. She brings lots of knowledge with her that will benefit the team.”
Brown-McFarland has six returning gymnasts on her roster along with two newcomers.
Leading the returnees are seniors Haley Fugate and Alexa Waldrip. At the Columbus East Sectional last year, Fugate finished ninth in the all-around competition and was fourth in both the floor exercise and vault.
The other four returning gymnasts are juniors Kaylee James, Hannah Scott and Maddy Whiteman and sophomore Marissa Black. Jeff’s newcomers are junior Devyn Cook and freshman Zoe Crafton.
Brown-McFarland thinks she has some gymnasts who have the potential to do well in the state tournament this year.
“I believe we have several gymnasts that will step up and compete during the postseason,” Brown-McFarland said. “Haley Fugate has shown successes in past postseasons, so I expect her to be in several of the postseason meets. I also believe if Maddy Whiteman upgrades her skills during the season, she could have a chance.”
During the regular season, Brown-McFarland is looking for each of her gymnasts to make consistent improvement in their techniques.
“I expect this team to keep improving from their previous seasons,” she said. “Some of the girls have amazing skills in their repertoire. I would like to see them upgrade their skills beyond that, which they are able to do. I know that the gymnasts can compete well on an individual basis at meets. However, I am looking to bring the team together and have more successful team scores.”
Jeff lost one of its top gymnasts to graduation in Shea O’Brien, who advanced to last year’s IHSAA State Finals in the balance beam.
O’Brien, who has helped out the Red Devils with her guidance during their preseason practices, leaves a leadership void for Jeff.
Brown-McFarland is relying on her veteran gymnasts to fill that leadership vacancy. Waldrip has been one of the Red Devils who has made an effort to be a more effective leader thus far.
“Alexa Waldrip has stepped up to lead the team with her spirit and dedication to the sport,” Brown-McFarland said. “She will certainly be in a leadership role throughout the season. Other gymnasts — Hannah, Haley and Maddy — have shown lots of dedication in practices and will undoubtedly join Alexa in leading the team to team success as well as winning meets.”
Brown-McFarland likes the work ethic and leadership of her squad. But her main concerns are her team’s overall health and depth. Some early injuries have forced Jeff to not compete in its originally scheduled season-opening meet on Saturday at Bloomington North.
“The strengths of this team are certainly its dedication and its leadership. Most of the girls are athletes in other sports, and they put many hours in each day and night practicing in each of their sports,” Brown-McFarland said. “My concerns, as with any gymnastics coach, are the injuries that are inevitable when doing gymnastics. Gymnastics takes full body muscle and control. Oftentimes if the girls are not fully conditioned or aware, they may get hurt.
“My other concern for the team is continuing on after a few years. Our roster is not deep and the assistant coach and I want to begin actively recruiting Jeff High students to participate in this amazing and gratifying sport.”
The Red Devils face a difficult schedule that includes meets against two state finalist teams from a year ago in Seymour and Columbus North. Jeff also will compete against perennial powers Columbus East, Bloomington North and Bloomington South. The Red Devils’ matchup with Seymour on Tuesday, Feb. 12 will be their only home meet of the season.
“The Bloomington North and South teams are always competitive meets for us. Columbus East has been a gymnastics powerhouse for years,” Brown-McFarland said.
2012-13 JEFF ROSTER
Haley Fugate 12
Alexa Waldrip 12
Devyn Cook 11
Kaylee James 11
Hannah Scott 11
Maddy Whiteman 11
Marissa Black 10
Zoe Crafton 9
2012-13 JEFF SCHEDULE
Date Opponent Time
Jan. 26 at Bloomington South noon
Feb. 9 at Bloomington North 11 a.m.
Feb. 12 Seymour 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 20 at Columbus North 7 p.m.
Feb. 23 at Columbus East noon
March 1 at Columbus East Sectional 7 p.m.