Gymnastics head coach Jerry Reighard is entering his 28th season with Central Michigan and he has seen plenty of change during his tenure.
“Recruiting was almost non-existent when I came here.” Reighard said. “I remember distinctively when I came in the very first year I was recruiting an athlete from Florida, and I told the athletic director I wanted to fly an athlete in from Florida, and she just looked at me with bug eyes like, ‘we don’t do that.’”
Things have changed an awful lot since the second longest tenured CMU coach came to Mount Pleasant in 1984.
“Now I’m flying all over, and kids are flying in-and-out on their own,” Reighard said. “They like this university and they like this program.”
Obviously Reighard has been able to bring in some talent. He’s won 12 Mid-American Conference titles and eight MAC Coach of the Year awards.
CMU freshmen Taylor Noonan, Kylie Fagan, and Halle Moraw already have seen his impact.
“Coach Reighard has helped me a lot, he has helped me improve on everything, and helped me believe in myself,” Fagan said.
Reighard shows a lot of patience with his very talented freshmen.
“He is really good about working with you, he doesn’t get on you and he doesn’t leave you alone, he works with you and he is patient,” Noonan said. “It’s helpful knowing that he always has your back.”
He doesn’t like taking the credit for his athletes’ success though.
“I think it’s very humbling, it’s certainly very gratifying,” he said. “I always know that it’s not really me winning the award, but the athletes winning a conference championship.”
CMU is near and dear to Reighard’s heart. He’s come full circle from being a gymnast at CMU, coaching here and even coaching a daughter for the Chippewas.
“I’m obviously very bias, but I think the thing that sticks out in my mind is when my daughter who was on the team scored her first 10.” he said. “I can vividly see that in my mind, and I can feel the emotions. Not only the pride I had as a coach but as a father as well.”
Her name was Kara Reighard and she represented the maroon and gold from 2002-05. She was three time All-MAC and MAC freshman of the year in 2002. She still holds the CMU record for best all-around score with a 39.625 during the 2003 MAC Championships.
Besides recruiting, a lot else has changed since Reighard took over as Chippewas head coach.
“I think it’s almost a new sport, a different sport then it was 20 years ago.” Reighard said. “The equipment has changed, the requirements of what we have to do have changed, and more importantly the talent level has changed tremendously.”
As well as talent growth, better recruiting helps bring in the best talent. Something that’s important to Reighard.
“The skills that we were doing on floor twenty-five years ago, we’re now doing on the balance beam,” he said. “It’s just exploded, making it very difficult for the athletes to get a good score.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the feeling of winning a MAC title.
“MAC titles never get old, they never get old,” the 12-time MAC champion said. “It’s a challenge from the very first day of August when our athletes get here and it culminates on that Saturday that we compete for the conference championship.”
He went on to say that the feeling doesn’t last longer than 30 days because it is on to the next season. But when you lose it lasts the whole year.
Although Reighard has been at CMU 28 years and accomplished so much, he’s not content. He wants more.
“I would really love to take a CMU team to the national championships,” he said. “It’s one of the things that we have worked very hard for and came very close. The top 12 teams in the nation go and we have finished 13th before.
“In fact we actually finished tied for 12th place and lost the tiebreaker, so it was almost like a flip of the coin. That’s one of the things, one of the aspirations I still have.”