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Bringing change: Gymnastics coach Christine MacDonald makes gym 'like a home'

Central Michigan coach Christine MacDonald watches as gymnasts compete against Kent State Feb. 16 at McGuirk Arena.

Christine MacDonald has been eyeing the Central Michigan gymnastics teams head coaching position for more than 30 years. 

On Feb. 16, she finally led her team out of the huddle for the first time. 

It was a dream come true. The Chippewas have found their new leader.

MacDonald has been involved with the the Chippewa gymnastics program for 30 years, dating back to when she competed for the Chippewas in the late 1980's and early 1990's. 

She started as a student-athlete from 1988-91 and won two Mid-American Conference team championships before becoming a student coach in 1992. 

After that, MacDonald became an assistant coach before being promoted to associate head coach in 2006. During her tenure, CMU has won 15 MAC Championships and earned 16 NCAA Regional berths. 

MacDonald took the head coaching job on May 16, 2019, after serving as in an interim role after long-time coach Jerry Reighard was suspended in February and fired from the program on April 18, 2019. 

While the interim coach, MacDonald led the Chippewas to an NCAA Regional qualifier against Illinois. 

Through it all, MacDonald said she's learned hard work and it has always resonated with her as she passes that knowledge to her student-athletes. 

"I've always told my athletes this, just like I tell my children — nothing worth having isn't going to come easily," MacDonald said. "You're going to have to work for things and nobody is going to hand you anything, the same thing in sports – you're going to have to work for it."

Taking over the role occupied by Reighard for 36 years, MacDonald has brought a mindset of her own into the practice gym, it goes down to the motto MacDonald has utilized with the Chippewas this season —

Work hard, stay focused and have fun. 

"The hard work comes in the gym, staying focused on what you need to do and hopefully, at the end of the day, you're still enjoying the moments," MacDonald said. 

Central Michigan coach Christine MacDonald watches as gymnasts compete against Kent State Feb. 16 at McGuirk Arena. 

One of MacDonald's many star pupils in her tenure with the Chippewas, sophomore Morgan Tong, was the Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year last season.

Tong said MacDonald's instruction in leading practice has proved to be beneficial for CMU as it has helped her, and several of her teammates, grow as the season has progressed.

"It's been really good," Tong said. "I feel like Christine has made the gym like a home and that we're all each other's family. She's really emphasized the details and I know that pays off in our routines and all her assignments in the gym have helped me and other people a lot. It's really good having her as a head coach." 

Denelle Pedrick was the MAC Gymnast of the Year in her junior season last year and won individual MAC titles on the vault and the all-around competition. She was also named first-team All-MAC and she was a 2019 NCAA Regional Championship qualifier in the all-around. 

Pedrick, one of the two senior captains of the team, said the atmosphere around the team has improved and her teammates are always looking to put in the work needed to be successful in the practice gym. 

Much of the willingness to work stems from a trust MacDonald has in the team and the team has in MacDonald. 

Central Michigan coach Christine MacDonald speaks with gymnasts as they compete against Kent State Feb. 16 at McGuirk Arena.

"She wholeheartedly believes in us as we do in her," Pedrick said. "We trust her practice plans and everyone's bought in. I think it's shown, the team has improved so much with her and it's just a positive atmosphere in the gym, everyone's happy to be there."

One of the three key pieces of the motto MacDonald uses with her team is fun — she wants her gymnasts to enjoy themselves. 

Many have taken the notion of having fun to heart. In warmups before the Kent State dual, several gymnasts were practicing popular dance moves from the app, Tik Tok, and joking around if — or when — they made a mistake. 

Pedrick said having fun is one of the most important aspects of the sport and the competition is the best part.

"It's so much fun to be able to flip in the air and defy gravity is unexplainable, it's just fun to do it," Pedrick said. "To watch your teammates succeed as you watch how hard they work in the gym, how much effort they put in, to see it pay off for them to have that great routine or stuck dismount is just an awesome feeling."

MacDonald said she was happy about the opportunity to take the head coaching role and is proud to lead the program she has been a critical part of for three decades.

After all, it comes down to hard work. 

"It's a great moment when you work for something and you get that opportunity, I'm very fortunate," MacDonald said. "It's a blessing and something I take very seriously and I'm very thankful for the opportunity to continue to represent CMU in a new role and continue to be involved in so many great student-athletes lives and continue to mentor them down the road and be part of their future. 

"It's a true honor."