Gymnastics’ Becky Carter Classic finding new purpose

Concordia junior Courtney Welker (By Blake Sebring of
Courtney Welker
Concordia Lutheran High School senior Lily Friedlich is returning to competition this season after missing last year because of shoulder surgery. (By Blake Sebring of
Lily Friedlich

When the Concordia Invitational for gymnastics started in 1986, it as a way for then-Cadets coach Vicki Wright to showcase a young team that included Becky Carter who won the state balance beam title and the mental attitude award later that year. A few years later, Carter became ill with aplastic anemia and died in 1993, and the meet was renamed for her in 1994.

Thirty-two years after it started and become the state’s premier regular-season gathering of great teams and individuals, the meet will take another step ahead at 11:30 Saturday morning with a unique way to honor its past and its future.

Three or four years ago, now-Concordia coach Dawn Patterson would attend volleyball or basketball games that were holding “pink outs” to raise money to fight breast cancer and honor survivors. A former teammate of Carter’s, Patterson always thought it would be a neat idea to try for a gymnastics meet but buying a separate set of uniforms for one meet would just be too expensive.

Patterson kept checking with manufacturers and finally found an economical way to purchase pink uniforms. After telling the team her idea, they suggested that all the teams in the meet be invited to participate. Most teams are excited about showing up at 11:30 a.m. Saturday wearing some form of pink.

“God just kind of nudges on you, and this was a good thing for the girls and I thought it was a good way to unite the gymnastics community,” Patterson said. “We’re competing against each other, but we’re coming together for this. It seemed like the idea was just planted and everything started to fall into place.”

Because it’s the unofficial kickoff to the season, the Carter Classic is always a fun, hopeful event, a place to see what moves the competitors have been working on and who has improved since last year. It’s also a chance to some of the state’s top teams like No. 2 Valparaiso, No. 5 Bishop Dwenger, No. 6 Carroll, No. 7 Merrillville and No. 10 Homestead and top returning individuals such as Bishop Dwenger’s Elaine Cornewell, Sophia Wright-Turflinger and Rachel Landstroffer, Homestead’s Catherine Milne and Olivia Cronenwett and Carroll’s Jillian Hoffman and McKinley Carroll.

Even better, the pink out is a personal cause for the current Cadets team as the mothers of senior Lily Friedlich and junior Courtney Welker are both cancer survivors.

When Friedlich was in the sixth grade when her mother Angela dealt with the disease.

“It was really weird to hear about and imagine your parent going through something like this,” Friedlich said. “You know them as so healthy your whole life, and it’s strange to see them weaker. I got to watch her go through it with such grace and strength. It was definitely a lesson. I can see what she handles, and even during that bad time she didn’t let it bring her down or our family down.”

Friedlich used that example over the past year. She had to miss last season because of shoulder surgery, but she’s returning to compete in her senior year.

Welker said she was in kindergarten when her mother Angi battled cancer.

“I just remember visiting her and crying, but she was always so strong,” Welker said. “I have two sisters and she never let us see how much it affected her. I know she was scared because it’s a scary situation for anyone, but she was just so strong and handled it so well.”

Welker said she thought having the Carter Classic be a pink out was a really cool idea.

“I think it’s more of a positive reminder because it’s such a big impact in a positive way,” Welker said. “I don’t know what me or my family would do without my mom and she’s so proud to be a survivor.”

Even better, the Cadets have already decided they’d like to make this an annual part of the Carter Classic.