Within days before the winter sports season starts, the Cheney High gymnastics team finally has a head coach for its inaugural season and her name is Jaelyn Gardner.
Gardner has lived in the Northwest her whole life, growing up in Kennewick before moving to the West Plains over five years ago. She went to Eastern Washington University where she graduated from the college’s dental hygiene program.
“I would say I’m a dental hygienist by day and a gymnastics coach by night,” Gardner said.
In the summer, she learned about the job opening for a gymnastics coach at Cheney and was interested, but decided not to apply for it because of work. With winter sports around the corner, Cheney High School athletic director Gregg Hare reached out to her.
“He knew I was interested and offered me the coaching position,” Gardner said. “I thought about it and said ‘I’m going for it.’”
Gardner has been involved with gymnastics since she was 7 years old, competing on a private club team when she was younger. She attended and competed for Southridge High School in Kennewick, while balancing her school work, and went as far as districts, progressing to state in her senior year. Although she dabbled in other sports, gymnastics was her focus.
After she moved to the West Plains, Gardner coached at Mountain View Gymnastics in Airway Heights.
“I’ve always had a passion for the sport,” Gardner said. “I’ve always had fun doing it. I love to spin, tumble and jump. Most of my friends were on the team. I’ve always enjoyed being out on the mat and competing.”
Similar to sports like swimming, wrestling, tennis and golf, gymnastics has an individual element. Gardner hopes her passion and excitement for the sport will translate over to the team. She knows she’ll be getting a mix of gymnasts who have years of experience and athletes who have never competed in the sport. She’s also hoping to instill in her team a sense of responsibility, as well as help them build confidence in their abilities and each other.
“The girls can learn from each other and grow in the sport, and that’s kind of exciting,” Gardner said. “They’re high school students, so they’ll be juggling sports on top of homework and classes and have to work on time management, which will benefit them a lot, not just in sports but also in life.”
For its first year, the gymnastics team will practice at Mountain View Gymnastics Monday through Friday and Saturday mornings, though Gardner hopes the school can buy some equipment and have a space closer to campus for next year.
Hare said he “lucked out” when Gardner accepted the coaching role. He’s also glad the district was able to secure a facility like Mountain View. He added that Cheney will compete in the Greater Spokane League on a one-year trial basis.
“In building any program from the ground up, there’s a lot of learning and work going into it,” Hare said. “This (gymnastics) is a new thing for me. It’s exciting.”
In the first couple of weeks, Gardner said she’ll have a lot to cover with her team, including which events they’ll “best fit in.”
“There will be a lot of learning to get them ready for that first competition,” Gardner said. “There’s going to be a lot of learning for all of us, but I’m excited. I’m working to build a solid foundation and get this program rolling.”