Gymnastics: Newnan’s state title run 3 years in the making

The Newnan gymnastics team, from left to right: junior Rubylyn Goad, freshman Molly English, senior Jada Reese, junior Mikayla Burton, freshman Paige Krauth and junior varsity eighth grader Ava Kate Jongeneel.
The Newnan gymnastics team, from left to right: junior Rubylyn Goad, freshman Molly English, senior Jada Reese, junior Mikayla Burton, freshman Paige Krauth and junior varsity eighth grader Ava Kate Jongeneel.

Credit: Courtesy of Lisa Marie Photography

Credit: Courtesy of Lisa Marie Photography

A series of setbacks has the ‘Gym Cats’ eager to prove they can win it all

The last two seasons, Newnan felt it had a team good enough to win a state championship. However, in both seasons, circumstances beyond performance on the mat prevented the team from participating in a championship.

The ‘Gym Cats’, as they’re called — the school’s official nickname is the Cougars — are currently dealing with a crisis, but they’re determined to see the season through because at this point, gymnastics is all they have.

“They have each other and the gym, and that’s what’s keeping them going and giving them a sense of normalcy,” Newnan coach Robin Goad said.

The school was hit particularly hard last week by a violent EF-4 tornado that ravaged Newnan and destroyed everything in its path. It was just the 10th tornado of that strength to touch down in Georgia since 1950.

The Gym Cats are ranked No. 2 in the state in 6A-7A with 110.375 points, just behind top-ranked Carrollton (110.625), which this week claimed the top spot from them.

For the third season in a row, Newnan has positioned itself to win a state title but has yet to compete in the championship meet. In 2019, the Gym Cats were just three gymnasts deep — the minimum required to compete — and still finished the regular season ranked No. 1 and first place in the state preliminaries. However, one gymnast suffered an injury days before the the championship and, without the minimum number of gymnasts, they were forced to withdrawal.

And, of course, there was 2020. The Gym Cats participated in one meet before the season was canceled.

This season, the Gym Cats are five deep, led by Goad’s daughter, Rubilyn Goad, and her lifelong friend Mikayla Burton, both juniors who have been in the same gym class since they were 18 months old.

Teams can compete in just three meets in 2021, as opposed to 10 in a normal year, before the preliminaries on April 22 at Buford Arena, where only the top eight qualify. The Gym Cats have competed in two meets so far, winning both. Against some of the state’s best teams, including Carrollton, they scored a 111.4 at Carrollton on March 12, and 109.35 in Milledgeville on March 27.

The Gym Cats’ final meet before preliminaries is Friday, where they’ll host at the Newnan School of Gymnastics.

With the city recovering from the tornado, the Gym Cats are doing their part with community outreach. All of the school’s student-athletes help with packing meals for others, buying and donating supplies for drop-off locations, and other activities.

The Gym Cats have been participating in community outreach with the rest of Newnan's student-athletes as they recover from last week's EF-4 tornado.
The Gym Cats have been participating in community outreach with the rest of Newnan's student-athletes as they recover from last week's EF-4 tornado.

Credit: courtesy of Robin Goad

Credit: courtesy of Robin Goad

Community service, and practicing at the gym for a title run, has been the team’s purpose lately. The school is closed indefinitely, though virtual learning will return April 12, following spring break. Many are without power, and the damage throughout the city is extensive.

“We were hit hard,” Goad said. “It affected the elementary school and a lot of students were impacted there and all over the area. It put our whole community on hold...All of the utility poles are knocked down and (getting power restored) is a big undertaking.”

Once in the preliminaries, they must finish in the top four at that meet or their season is over. Those advancing will compete in the championship on April 24, also at Buford Arena.

The Gym Cats are determined to be one of those teams, Goad said.

“In 2019 we were ready to compete in the championship on a Friday, and the injury happened the Monday before,” Goad said. “Last year, we were ready to redeem ourselves from the injury circumstances and then COVID-19 hit and there was nothing we could do. We’ve definitely been itching to defend ourselves and win a title.

“They have two years of preparation in the back of their minds. They’re anxious and highly motivated to compete and try to get back to where they were.”

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