FISHERS – Ever since she can remember, gymnastics has always had a place in Susie Strange’s heart. Even when her competitive career ended and she went to college, married and started her own family, Susie continued to judge in competitive gymnastics, in a role she served in for more than 20 years.
Coaching a high school gymnastics team, though? That idea was never on her radar until her eldest daughter Savannah saw her gym a few years ago. Susie came up with a detailed plan and approached Fisher’s athletic director Jim Brown about setting up a gymnastics team in high school.
“Mom used to call me stubborn,” Susie said with a smile. “I call myself persistent. I think there’s a small difference – but I’m a little stubborn. … Somehow I suggested a plan: ‘Can we do this? How can we achieve this? What do I need to do to make that happen? ‘”
It only started as a mother and daughter. Susie trains and Savannah competes as an individual for the Fishers gymnastics “team”. But through Susie’s diligence – coaching, fundraising and juggling her time working with seniors as a physiotherapist – Fishers ’team grew into a“ real ”team with six gymnasts last fall. Susie, named IndyStar Mother’s Day 2022 “Sports Mom of the Year”, is not to blame. In fact, she lobbied for other mothers and rejected praise for her team, the school and her assistant Taylor Muscar.
But her daughter Savannah is especially grateful for the time she spent with her mother – and coach – during her high school years. She nominated her mother, writing that she was her “No. 1 supporter ”, and brought to tears when asked what it means to her.
“She does a lot of things,” Savannah said. “I do not think she has enough credit for that. She has all these different things she does to help in the community and (coaching) is one of the great things she has done. As the last two years have passed … we are quite close. ”
Ashlee Scarlett concluded that her competitive gymnastics career was probably over. She competed in competitive club gymnastics for 10 years and tried her hand at training younger gymnasts. She learned about the Fishers team through an Instagram post and Muskara, who had previously coached her for two years.
“That sounds like fun,” Scarlett said of her reaction. “And it was fun. The meetings were fun, and hanging out with the girls on the side was a lot of fun. ”
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The six team members didn’t really know each other before the season started. But in the end, the Tigers were competitive and finished third as part of the team in Lafayette Jeff. Gianna Dewald was sixth in the all-around singles, and Fishers teammate Megan Jerrell was seventh. Savannah was 13th in the all-around.
“We got along so well,” Scarlett said. “Savannah was so funny. If I went into training not feeling my best, she would bring a big smile to my face. It was so much fun to be around her and she was the person you could go to if you needed anything. She is like her mother. She is so kind and caring. ”
Gymnastics has been present as a sport of the Indiana High School Athletics Federation since 1973. But this sport, at least as a school sport, is declining in the number of participating schools (this year there were 78 competing in the section) and the total number of participants (a drop of about 50 % in Indiana over a 20-year period, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations).
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But that doesn’t mean the sport isn’t popular. It is. Savannah and the rest of the Fishers team have all competed from a young age in club gymnastics. It can be almost like a full-time job for gymnasts who invest more than 20 hours a week. Some of the girls who ended up on the Fishers team “retired” from competitive gymnastics.
“We use the word‘ retire ’because it’s more like giving up a sport to do other things,” Susie said. “But maybe they still want to do gymnastics and still love the sport. At some point some kids say, ‘Enough, I don’t want to work 12, 16, 20 or more hours a week.’ We don’t like to use the word ‘stop’ because the things you get from sports like dedication, dedication to time, the ability to work on this together as a team, these are all skills you can learn to gain older in life because you spend so much time, effort and dedication in the team. ”
Savannah trains approximately 12 hours a week at DeVeau Gymnastics School in Fishers, but is also a pole vaulter on the Fishers Athletic Team, plays the trombone and is active in the 4-H. She has a lot on her plate as a 17-year-old. Shawn and Susie’s younger daughter, seventh-grader Sydney Strange, is also busy with her interests in music, theater, dance and gymnastics.
“I tell (my daughters) I don’t want them to be the smartest kid in the class, I don’t want them to be the best athletes, but I want them to be the best they can be,” said Susie, who grew up in Marion. “I think in today’s world they have to be well-rounded. Not just being smart, not just being good at something, but having those character traits that mean more – like work ethic, kindness and working through things and there for people. Just be kind. That’s not enough in this world. “
And perhaps sport, in a small way through gymnastics and through the school team at Fishers, can be a vessel for spreading that goodness.
Brown, sporting director at Fishers, couldn’t offer Susie much when she said she wanted to form a team. But he offered support and a green light to begin with.
Gymnastics is an expensive sport due to the necessary equipment such as jumping and balance beam. The gym space is also valuable. The Fishers team practiced off-site at DeVeau’s and Wright’s Gymnastics in Noblesville, but rallied faster than Susie had ever imagined.
“It was amazing with the limited space we had for exercise, how much they connected,” Susie said. “Our trainings lasted only an hour and a half. Not for long at all and only a few times a week. But we met outside because of different team-building things and this group of girls – I don’t think they’ll ever talk to each other. I don’t think any of them actually knew each other before. Seeing the girls come back from retirement and accomplishing the things they did in a short time was invigorating for me… there were a lot of firsts and overcoming challenges. ”
The team was mostly built by word of mouth. When friends found out Savannah was involved, they asked, “Oh, we have a team?” she said. Entering the 2021-22 school year, Susie and Savannah started distributing flyers and social media to spark interest.
“I think a lot of people think you have to have a lot of skills to be on a team,” Scarlett said. “But you don’t know. It differs from levels (competitive gymnasts progress to levels 1 to 10). I think if people find out how much fun it was for seniors like me and Gianna, I think they’ll keep doing it. We should keep doing it. “
Susie said she plans to continue coaching the program next year and potentially in the future.
“I love giving back and I hope this will start something that will grow and have a future and make others love the sport and give them opportunities they would not otherwise have,” she said.
The time of mother and daughter with Savannah was also special for Susie. Every now and then she has to be reminded to take off her “coach hat” – or Savannah will remind her.
“They get older, get a permit and run away from the nest a little more,” Susie said. “So meeting her friends, with whom she hangs out, he thought about the process before he went home to college – that was a big advantage.”
Call reporter Stara Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.