King Jerry: Head Gymnastics Coach Reighard leads Chippewas to quest for sixth consecutive conference title


Head Gymnastics Coach Jerry Reighard gives Ypsilanti freshman Courtney Campbell tips during practice March 16 in the team's practice facility.

In three decades as the head coach of the Central Michigan University gymnastics team, Jerry Reighard has coached the Chippewas to 15 Mid-American Conference Championships. The Chippewas head to Kent State University on Saturday in search of the program’s sixth consecutive conference crown. Central Michigan Life caught up with Reighard as he reflected on his time in Mount Pleasant and the culture he has helped create.

Your team is the reigning five-time MAC Champions. What does that designation mean to you?

Reighard: It’s about the legacy these athletes are going to be able to take with them and the pride in CMU that they’re going to have. I think it is a family heirloom not many people get to experience. The rings are great and it means a lot don't get me wrong, but knowing that you really helped an individual is what got me into coaching.

You preach mental toughness to your athletes often. Why is that so important to you?

Reighard: It’s probably more important than their physical attributes. They are separating factors. You get several athletes of the same caliber. It is so much easier to make an athlete great when she is smart enough to understand what you are talking about.

What has changed and what has stayed the same in your three decades leading this program?

Reighard: Facilities have gone way beyond what I had ever thought they would be here. I used to drive a Suburban (with) the team to a meet. We didn't stay overnight. The athletes are tremendously more talented than when I first came here.

Your daughter was a gymnast at CMU. What did it mean to coach one of your children at one of the highest levels?

Reighard: When I think of life, I really think of God, or my faith, my family then my employment. We have a trampoline in our backyard, we had rope swings that went into ponds. My wife and I owned a club so they were always “gym rats,”. We didn't have babysitters, they were at the gym. To (coach) your own child, what more can you ask for? It was a great experience for both of us.

Why have the last 10 years been so successful for this program?

Reighard: I have been successful because I am doing what God wants me to do. It is not because of me and my coaching, I know that for sure. Success in our sport depends on 18-22 year old women. Those are intangible things. When you have staff and athletes that want to be good, you can mold them, and usually ends up with success.

Recently, what do you think opponents think when they see CMU on their schedule?

Reighard: I want them to be hesitant, I want their athletes to look at it and go “That's a good team.” That's why I have to go to Utah or California. Michigan State won’t schedule us. The University of Michigan, is No. 6 (in the nation) and usually in the top 12. It’s not like we are exactly their caliber, but if they don't have a great day, we’re going to be right there. To get knocked off by a mid major, in any sport, they’re just hesitant.

The Chippewas had a bit of a rough patch from 2005-2009, what did it take to bounce back with such force?

Reighard: Better recruiting. I was feeling pretty high on the horse prior to ’06. We had done really well. When it comes to the choices like UCLA or Central Michigan, we couldn't win that. So mistakenly, when we didn't get these elite kids, the kids that we should have been recruiting were gone. I did that for three straight years, but I paid for it for four. During a 30-year career, you learn, the way you bounce back is you stay in your niche. You find kids that really want to get better, they know this staff can make them better and that is our niche.