While there is always lots of happiness at the end of each state tournament gymnastics meet, there are also some tears. Athletes who may have started in their sport as soon as they could walk know there's nothing left for them once their senior seasons are complete.
``It's not like you can (tell) all your friends and say meet me in the park and we'll do gymnastics,'' Northrop coach Kim Coak said. ``You can't just show up someplace and get a backyard group to do gymnastics. It doesn't work like that.''
Athletes in almost any other sport can continue to participate after their varsity days are over, but very few high school gymnasts compete in college, and there's no chance of getting a balance beam or a parallel bars routine in at the YMCA.
A handful of seniors took part in their final meet last week at the sectional, and even more will peel off the tape for the last time and pack away their leotards after Friday's Huntington North Regional. Only the top six competitors in each event will advance to the state meet.
Something these athletes have done their whole lives may be completely over.
``It's a bittersweet thing with them,'' Carroll coach Rosemary Scheele said. ``By the time they are seniors, some of these kids have been doing gymnastics since they were very young. Sometimes by the time they are seniors, they are so ready to be done, but yet they also know this is the best time of their lives. Should I be glad I'm done, or should I be sad because I'm going to miss my gymnastics family?''
And gymnastics is a lifestyle as much as a sport. These competitors usually do not participate in another sport because gymnastics requires such year-round dedication and sacrifice. That's one reason why competitors always cheer for opponents. They all know how difficult it is to compete at a high level.
``It kind of hit me that this could be the last time, but I know as a team we can pull together,'' Carroll senior Carrie Ferguson said. ``I just block it out of my mind and focus on team things. We have to keep the pressure down or the younger ones will start freaking out. Yeah, it could be a last practice, but we have to keep everything the same, normal.''
Sometimes gymnasts at this time of year will talk about how this could be their last practice, their last teardown or their last beam routine. It's tough to give up something they've dedicated their lives to.
``Floor is my favorite, and when I finished, I started tearing up a little bit,'' said North Side senior Emilia Rodriguez after the sectional. ``There's nothing else I can do. It's been my life since I was a year-and-a-half old. I'm still going to be a part of it through coaching or something. I'm going to miss it, but it's part of the sport.''
This is also the time when coaches encourage their seniors to consider becoming coaches or judges to give back to the sport. There's always a need for both.
``I try to ignore it sometimes, but then the other day at practice it all came on me at once and I had kind of a meltdown,'' Northrop's Nataley Sliger said. ``It just makes you try harder and it makes it that much more rewarding. You look back at all the hard work you've done and everything you've been through and it's overwhelming. It's going to be hard to not react.''
Some seniors learn to use that tension and anxiety to make sure their last meet is exceptional. There's nothing to do but bury any regrets inside afterward.
``It's kind of scary because I know I'm done, but I kind of feel like it's an accomplishment that I've made it through all these years,'' Carroll's Megan Felger said. ``I just want to go out the best I can.''