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Prep gymnastics: Trojans bid fond farewell to armory, look forward to new home

WORTHINGTON -- The downtown Worthington armory building. The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The similarities are striking. No, really. The armory building, home of Worthington High School gymnastics since 1996, is a dark and dank place. The Metrod...

WORTHINGTON -- The downtown Worthington armory building.

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

The similarities are striking. No, really.

The armory building, home of Worthington High School gymnastics since 1996, is a dark and dank place. The Metrodome was once described precisely that way.

The armory was never the best place to hold gymnastics competitions. It’s old and cramped. There has never been enough seating to comfortably accommodate fans. There’s barely enough room to hold the bars, beam, vault and floor events at the same time. And the dressing room facilities are sub-par.

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Major league baseball fans complained about the Metrodome for years before it was finally abandoned. High fly falls got lost by outfielders against the background of the white roof, and sometimes the roof itself ripped in rain and snowstorms. The seating wasn’t angled for optimum fan comfort. Being there was like being in somebody’s basement.

But there are thousands of Minnesota Twins fans who still hold the Metrodome dear. It was the Twins’ home when they won World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, it’s where they waved their “homer hankies.” Twins players knew every little nook and cranny, and it gave them a decided advantage over rival teams. It was where their fans’ best memories were made.

The armory? Local gymnasts, and their fans, will be glad to leave it and perform next season at a brand new facility being constructed on the west side of town. And yet … they’ll always have their armory memories.

The Trojans, who soon will attempt to secure their fifth consecutive state Class A tournament berth, won their last four while calling the armory their home. Head coach Joni Reitmeier was a freshman when she first competed there in 1996, and she will leave a lot of wonderful memories there when the gym equipment is finally hauled away.

“Obviously, we were over the moon that we were getting a new facility,” she said on Thursday. “But it’s still bittersweet.

“We spent a lot of hours there, shed a lot of tears there, both happy and sad. So it’s definitely going to be bittersweet to leave there.”

She likened it to leaving home -- leaving the growing-up years behind.

“My parents still live in the home where I grew up,” she explained. “People always ask me what is your favorite place. And it’s still my favorite place to go home to my parents.”

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Ironically, the Trojans will not have the opportunity to adequately close out their varsity careers in the armory. Thursday’s scheduled final regular season home meet was canceled due to inclement weather.

It was supposed to be a pre-sectional showdown with arch-rival Jackson County Central, which for years battled WHS for Big South Conference glory and team berths for state competition. This year’s meeting was Meet the Trojans Night. That’s gone, too.

There was no way, of course, of knowing it at the time. But it turns out that the final varsity competition at the armory occurred on Jan. 15 against Blue Earth Area.

There will be a JV meet at the armory today, however, and a SWAG meet there on Sunday. Then it’s all over. It’s on to a new era next season at the $13.1 million Worthington Learning Center/Gymnastics building still under construction.

Reitmeier said that she and her gymnasts are “grateful” to be able to move into their new state-of-the-art home. It will be a safer environment for the girls. It’ll provide a better place to train, it will be better lit, it will have better seating and nice locker rooms.

“I just think of all the generations that are now going to call that home,” she said.

Big meets ahead The Trojans have two big meets on the 2018-19 schedule prior to the state tournament. Today they’ll compete in Welcome in the Big South Conference Championship along with JCC, New Ulm and Fairmont/Martin County West. On Saturday, Feb. 16, the Section 3A meet will take place in Redwood Falls.

For the rest of the season, Worthington senior Taylor Eggers, who has in the past qualified for several individual state tournament events, will play a lesser role. Eggers sustained an injury at the True Team meet on Jan. 26, which ended her ability to compete in the all-around. The uneven parallel bars will be her only event now.

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“It’s devastating to see her senior year have to end this way,” said Reitmeier. “We’re just happy that she’s still able to compete on the bars, which will help our team in a big way. We just have to keep focusing on the positive, we can’t dwell on the negative.”

Fortunately for the Trojans, they are a very deep squad ranked eighth in the state Class A field. Their junior varsity team, for instance, regularly outscores rival teams’ varsities.

Taylor’s injury, however, might create an opening for teams like Martin County Area and Jackson County Central, who are ranked 14th and 17th, respectively, by the Minnesota Girls Gymnastics Coaches Association.

Whatever will be will be. Reitmeier will continue instructing her girls to do the best that they can and let the chips fall wherever they may.

“I think any team can be beaten. I don’t think we’ve ever practiced thinking we can walk into a meet and count on winning it,” she said. “I train my girls to worry about us, do the best that we can.”

 

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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