By: MaKalie Farmer

On November 11 the gymnastics team competed against Cooper High to start their season, the first event  since the unexpected passing of the head boys coach, CJ Jackson. 

“The hardest part is your mindset,” freshman Izzy Mowery said. “You have to stay positive and confident in yourself during your routines.”

Gymnastics is composed of four competitions: floor, bars, beam, and vault. Junior Kaitlyn Gaither placed first in vault, beam, and floor as well as third in bars. Gaither also placed first all around. Freshman Addison Peters placed 5th in vault and floor as well as 6th in beam. Junior Joel Dantzler placed first in floor and pommel horse, second in rings and bars, and third in vault, finishing all around in first. Freshman Noah Thompson placed 5th in pommel horse and bars and 6th in rings. 

 “We are where we are today because of coach Jackson,” girls coach Nyki Richardson said. “Gymnastics is successful because of him.”

Coach Jackson had coached at Abilene high for 20 years and has coached the combined Abilene- Cooper high gymnastics boys team for ten years. He unexpectedly passed away in his sleep on October 30. 

“I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed coming to work because of Coach Jackson,” Richardson said. “He was one of the best men you could ever meet. He made it a fun environment.”

Coach Jackson was mostly known for his generosity, passion for his students, and his sense of humor. Some team members recalled that their favorite memories of Coach Jackson was of out of town competitions when he would take the team out to eat or to fun activities such as the one time he took the team to laser tag. One of the team’s fondest memories is their annual trip to Enchanted Rock. 

“It is definitely tragic,” Junior Kaitlyn Gaither said. “I think this will push us harder because we want to honor him because he’s done so much for us and now it’s our turn.”

The funeral service held for him on Sunday Nov 1 was full to the point of exceeding the capacity of the building. Afterwards, the team held a small memorial service for his birthday where they released a single balloon into the sky in his memory. 

“Coach Jackson was one of the coaches that pushed you so hard,” Gaither said. “It made us better not only as gymnasts, but as people.” 

Though the wound from this loss is still new and healing, the team is starting off their season with a win and will continue competing as the legacy with coach Jackson lives on. 

“He was a big part of our team, but this has made us stronger,” Mowery said. “Even though he’s gone, he’s still by our side every time we step out onto the mat. We will still go forward because nothing has stopped us.”