Members of Boone Grove's gymnastics team felt a little strange during the Valparaiso Invitational on Jan. 14.
Coach Erica Sauer had worked previously with the Vikings varsity, and she is part of the Valparaiso middle school gymnastics staff plus a staff member with the Valpo Gymnastics Club. Wolves gymnasts Valerie Strickland and Taylor Cain also belong to the club.
"It was a little weird (competing) against girls who have been my teammates and also performing in a place where I practice," said Strickland, who was third in all-around (33.425) and fifth on floor (9.3) in her inaugural prep meet. "I was still there to support my school."
For Strickland, Cain and coach Sauer that school is Boone Grove.
Strickland, a freshman at Boone, has been a part of the Valpo Gym Club since she was a third-grader, and she expected to pay tuition to transfer to Valparaiso High School. That plan changed a few years ago, according to Strickland's mother, Holly.
"We had always thought she would compete for Valpo, but the school chose to go closed enrollment," Holly said. "Kids couldn't come there if they were out of the district, so Valerie started to talk with (Boone Grove athletic director) Doug Knutson.
Valerie Strickland thought about competing in middle school for Boone Grove, but she opted to wait until this year to suit up for the Wolves.
Sauer came forward to take the job. She would have to give up helping the Vikings varsity, and the Porter Township School Board had already decided this position would be on a volunteer (non-paid) basis. Since Sauer would be working with club members and also be given use of the equipment at Valparaiso High School, it was almost a seamless transition.
"I knew the whole team," Sauer said. "We didn't have to worry about getting to know one another or how to adjust the equipment. That took off some pressure."
Strickland feels less pressure with a teammate. Cain, a sophomore, joined the Valpo Gym Club a year ago, and staff members informed her of an opportunity to compete for high school.
"I didn't know how all of this would work, but it's really great to have someone there to push you in practice," said Cain, who started gymnastics six years ago. "It keeps me going."
All three parties are equally thankful for the work done by Knutson. This wasn't a new venture for the Wolves AD. Sarah Ansburg competed for Boone Grove in 2004 and 2005 -- qualifying for state as a senior.
"It definitely helped having prior experience," said Knutson, who said the girls' parents are paying for the uniforms and participation fees. "We just made sure to follow all of the IHSAA protocols.
"I'm just equally thankful for the support we received from Valparaiso High School and that Erica would be gracious to do this on a volunteer basis."
The Wolves' next competition is Thursday in a four-way meet with Hobart, Lowell and host Valparaiso.
Cain was under the weather for the invitational, but she's just happy to be competing in high school.
"It will be less stressful because the first one is out of the way," she said.
"I just appreciate all of the support we have received. If (Coach Sauer) wouldn't have stepped up, we probably wouldn't be doing this."