Noelle Bratcher has been a gymnast for the past three years. That, by itself, might not sound significant but consider Bratcher is only 6 years old and thus has been doing gymnastics half her life.
Plus, she appears to be good at it, recently competing in a USA Gymnastics-sanctioned event March 4-5 in Nashville at the Music City Center. With plenty of top-notch competitors, 2,600 athletes from 18 different states and Canada, Bratcher placed seventh in her age group in the all-around with a score of 35.125. She earned medals in vault and bars and qualified for state competition in Clarksville at the end of March.
The annual event is called 2017 Nashville Nights – the largest gymnastic event in the state this year. Participants are part of teams made up of gymnastic schools across the country. Bratcher is a member of Elite Energy Gymnastics located in Murfreesboro, as she has been for the full three years of her gymnastics pursuits.
When she’s not practicing her gymnastics, or traveling to a competition, Bratcher does her studies and is a first-grader at Centertown School. She is also the daughter of Michael and Cheryl Bratcher of Warren County.
“We are very proud of Noelle’s hard work and dedication,” said Cheryl.
While many student-athletes pursue their sports interests in organized public school teams, Bratcher wouldn’t have had any opportunities in Warren County schools, as none offer gymnastics from elementary to the high school level.
Gymnastics, once a big part of high school athletics across the country, has had up to 25 percent downturns in areas where it was once mainstream. In Tennessee, checking MaxPreps brings no results for high schools with a girls gymnastics team and doesn’t even list boys gymnastics as a sport.
Another area where we have local talent in gymnastic-type endeavors would be the WCHS Pioneer cheerleaders who recently won a national Cheersport competition in Atlanta. Members of Cheersport get training in the private sector as well.
Elite Energy Gymnastics instructs an entire program in Cheer and also offers competitive teams. In many competitions, teams from different schools enter to compete against another private sector school.
There are several reasons given for the decline in public school gymnastics. One is the expense to start a program and yearly maintenance costs. It’s tough to find a qualified gymnastics coach given the level of certification needed to do so, and if the coach should leave, the school has a bigger challenge finding a new one.
Some schools are working to overcome the challenges of gymnast, facility and coaching shortages via co-op programs with other area schools, YMCAs and even clubs, which often provide practice facilities and coaches while allowing schools to compete under their own team names. Equipment manufacturers now offer less costly refurbished equipment or bargain-priced pieces previously used in regional or state tournament competition.