Greatest sports streak? Meet the high school gymnastics team that won 18 straight state titles

MARIA SCHNEIDER felt nauseous.

It was 2019 and she had just been named head coach of the gymnastics team at Brecksville-Broadview Heights, a high school in suburban Cleveland.

But it wasn’t just any team. Schneider was now officially in charge of a team with a legendary state title winning streak.

The Bees had won every championship for 16 consecutive years. And as the coach who took the reins, the role came with a lot of responsibility – and a major fear that she would be the one to end it.

“She feels the pressure,” her brother Greg Ganim said. “Put yourself in that place [history] is not easy.”

Today, the streak stands at 18 – and on March 4 at the 2022 state championships, the team will have the chance to make 19. It all started before one of the gymnasts was born. current team.

“It’s just amazing that [the streak] is still ongoing,” Schneider said. “And I love it.”

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the previous record holder in the sport was Madison High School in South Dakota, which had a 16-year state title from 1995 to 2010. Behind that is Bellingham Washington’s Sehome, who won 13 straight state meets between 1973 and 1985.

The Brecksville-Broadview Heights Bees were so dominant in Ohio that from 2004 to 2014 the team didn’t lose a single game – capping at 777 consecutive wins (in tournaments, the winner is awarded one win for each team he beats).

This season, Brecksville returns a strong team featuring four seniors, three who have appeared in the state finals every year of their high school careers. But, of course, they too want to carry on the program’s legacy.

“We never want to be the team that breaks the streak,” said assistant coach Leah Miko, who is also a Brecksville gymnastics alumnus.

THERE IS PRESSURE every year for Brecksville gymnasts, but the program was designed to help them manage that — and anything that might happen in the competitive world of gymnastics or just being a teenager.

Schneider had also competed for the team and then become a lifelong assistant, working with her parents, Ron and Joan Ganim, for years. Gymnasts who have participated in the program credit Ganims and Schneider’s coaching style, particularly their focus on mental health, streak and the team camaraderie that is built each year. Decades before athletes spoke openly about mental health, Ron Ganim started a weekly class session that Schneider continues.

“We were talking about the psychological aspect of gymnastics and how it affects us, how it affects our life outside of gymnastics, how it affects our body, our self-awareness and everything,” said Kristy Thorp, who competed out of Brecksville from 2002 through ’06. “Honestly, I think it’s a great thing – they nipped this in the bud early on about the psychological aspect of gymnastics.”

Melissa Prozy, who competed for Brecksville-Broadview Heights from 1998 to 2002 and is now a gymnastics coach in Columbus, said she always channels her old coach when coaching her kids in gymnastics now.

“I think gymnastics is 70% mental, 30% physical. [Ron Ganim] absolutely believed that. He taught you how to deal with so many things, not just gymnastics, but life skills. Management of time. Nutrition. If you had a problem with tests, how to deal with stress when taking tests. So it wasn’t just the gymnastics he focused on, he focused on the mental part of your being,” she said.

Joan and Ron Ganim met on a blind date at Kent State in 1966. Joan was a gymnast and Ron a former football player. When she accepted the date, she was looking for a way to go to the reunion ball, but the two quickly became inseparable.

“From there he used to come to the gym every day to watch me and Rudy Bachna, who was my coach at the time, said, ‘If you’re going to come here every day, you’re going to be a gymnast or you “I’m going to learn to coach.” “According to Joan, Ron tried jumping once and opted for the latter.

Both graduated and got teaching jobs – Joan at Brecksville High School and her husband joined as a health teacher a year later. They began coaching in high school and were granted varsity status for the first time for the women’s team.

“We were talking about the psychological aspect of gymnastics and how it affects us, how it affects our life outside of gymnastics, how it affects our body, our self-awareness and everything.”

Kristy Thorp, Bees gymnast from 2002 to 2006

After the birth of their second child, Joan says school officials told her it would be the end of her teaching career. “So now we’re going to go from having an income of two teachers, no kids, [to] income from one teacher, two children,” she said. “Not working financially.

With the help of some money from Joan’s parents, the Ganims started Gymnastics World, one of the first gymnastics schools in the area, and discontinued their public school training activities. Gymnastics World, which now has two locations, begins with recreational programs for children as young as 10 months old and progresses to an elite club team where many Brecksville gymnasts train.

This is also one of the main reasons why the high school, even though it cannot recruit gymnasts like a private school would, is so competitive.

“Gym World is known for gymnastics and because it’s in Brecksville, it draws people to the sport,” Prozy said. “And I think that’s why the high school thrives because they have Gym World right there.”

The Ganims returned to coaching again in the Brecksville program in 1988 when Schneider decided she wanted to compete for high school, 12 years after her parents left.

“I knew if I wanted to see her compete, I had to be there,” Joan said.

When Schneider graduated, she followed in her mother’s footsteps and joined Kent State’s gymnastics team. While in college, Brecksville earned its first state championship in 1994.

Schneider followed in her father’s footsteps and became a health teacher when she graduated from college. In 2004, when Schneider was an assistant coach, the streak began.

The past 18 years have included one of Ohio’s most legendary performances: when Alecia Farina scored the first perfect 10 in OHSAA history on vault in 2015. She was a neighbor of the Ganims, trained in Gymnastics World and was so close to the family that when Ron Ganim died she had his name tattooed on her wrist.

There were also years when the streak seemed to be in danger.

In 2008, the Magnificat high school rose to 0.35 points and the following year to 0.125.

Miko, the assistant coach, competed for Brecksville from 2007 to 2010 and remembers it well. She recalled that in 2008, after some ups and downs in the competition, the Bees relied on then-senior Andrea Kinzer to pull off a jump move so difficult that when she tried it the year before, she broke his ankles.

“We told her we needed a 9.7 to win and the jump she was doing was only a 9.7, so we told her you had to do a full Yurchenko layout and that “She’s the last girl. The first jump she gets a 9.65, so still not good enough for the 9.7.”

Kinzer returned and on her second jump scored 9.85.

“So it was crazy but I think it was kind of the team dynamic that we would do absolutely anything to keep the streak going,” Miko said. “And if that means doing something that was out of our comfort zone, at the end of the day, if it didn’t work out in our favor, we gave it everything we had.”

Today, a wall in the Brecksville gymnasium is covered with state championship banners and a trophy case at the front of the school is dedicated solely to gymnastics team accomplishments with an oft-repeated quote from Ron Ganim: “Be a legend in your own mind.”

At his funeral in 2017, the line to pay respects to the family stretched for more than eight hours.

ETHANNA ALGIE MOVED to Brecksville from Florida before her sophomore year of high school. She is the only one of the team’s four seniors who has not spent her entire career with the team. Although she had competed in gymnastics for years, she admitted the streak caption gave her a little doubt.

“It was very scary going into the environment,” she said. “But everyone was so welcoming and I don’t regret it for a second.”

Last year, the team built gingerbread houses to create camaraderie, and the seniors cited bus rides and team dinners as their favorite memories of high school gymnastics.

Joan Ganim said when it came to pressure, she kept her advice simple: “Just have fun,” she said. “What must happen will happen.

“You can’t control it. If you try your best, that’s all you can ask for.”

Nina Mandell is a journalist living in Cleveland. She previously served as editor of NBC Sports Washington and USA Today’s For The Win.

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