Gymnastics team 'sticking together' through investigation of coach Jerry Reighard


The CMU Gymnastics team listens to the coaching staff before participating on the balance beam on Feb. 22 in McGuirk Arena.

For the last 35 years, it's been Jerry Reighard.

When the Central Michigan gymnastics team is announced over the public address system, Reighard's name roars through McGuirk Arena, succeeding the student-athletes.

But not on Friday night.

Reighard's name was not announced, and his team stood alone — 15 women, no coach. Even the Chippewa Sports Network broadcaster was asked not to say Reighard's name.

As of Feb. 20, Reighard was placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation. CMU Athletic Director Michael Alford told Central Michigan Life that the investigation of Reighard has nothing to do with Larry Nassar's case or Title IX, but declined to provide further details.

Enter associate head coach Christine MacDonald, who is taking charge of the program in Reighard's absence. She did not stand with the team for the national anthem, but provided support during the competition against Bowling Green on Feb. 22.

"I've been here 25 years, so this is no different," MacDonald said. "The team makes it easy for us. They are self-sufficient. For me coming in today, it was a normal meet day. That's how we kept it."

Central Michigan improved to 11-1 overall and 4-0 in MAC play with a 97.775-95.225 victory against the Falcons.

The key word throughout the week and during the competition: Focus.

"It's been just a great week as far as the support for each other and where we've been focused," MacDonald said. "The next step forward — working toward next week."

Senior gymnast Macey Hilliker agreed. She only competed in one event against Bowling Green, but boosted CMU's score on the balance beam with a 9.825.

"Sticking together as a team," Hilliker said. "Being one unit and having each other's backs and just doing what we do every day in the gym practicing."

Hilliker's fellow senior, Ginna Plaska, has career highs of 9.800 on the vault, 9.900 on the bars, 9.900 on the beam and 9.900 on the floor in her four-year career. In 2018, she earned All-MAC honors and was named to the All-MAC Tournament team after taking the title at the MAC Championships for her all-around score of 39.350.

The camaraderie between the gymnastics team helps all members remain focused, keeping them stable throughout any circumstance.

"We all build off each other," Plaska said. "My teammates are like the sisters I've never had."

MacDonald, since taking over on Feb. 20, has preached what she said is a "daily message" to CMU's team.

"You work hard and stay focused on the important things, and you don't get distracted," MacDonald said. "We work really hard at staying united, keeping a bubble around ourselves. Just staying focused on what you have to do and keeping a positive message to each other."

Against Bowling Green, the Chippewas posted a season-high 195.775 team score. CMU also earned season highs on the vault (49.050) and beam (49.025). Junior Denelle Pedrick, continuing her dominance in the 2019 campaign, won the all-around with a season-best 39.300.

Keeping CMU focused was something MacDonald never had to worry about. She said it's just the way the team operates – keeping it business as usual.

"They do a great job of staying that way," MacDonald said. "Not one person defines this program. Not one person gets the glory. It's the team."

It remains unclear if Reighard will be coaching the Chippewas for their upcoming away meet against Ball State at 1 p.m. March 3.

"They truly are a special group," MacDonald said. "We are super proud of the support they give each other daily. We are going to work hard, stay focused and have fun."