MERRILLVILLE | In high school sports, coaches sometimes leave for greener pastures when given a chance, looking for better opportunities to claim state championships and other accolades.
However, for Merrillville gymnastics coach Diane Roberts, her pasture has always been perfectly green, and her fiery passion for teaching the sport is not even close to being extinguished.
Roberts is in her 40th year coaching the Pirates and is still going strong with no plans to retire anytime soon. The 61-year-old has even gone as far to write a list of who could be on her high school team in 2018 based on the current gymnasts in the Merrillville Gymnastics Club.
"There was never anyplace else I ever wanted to be," said Roberts, who won state titles in 1986 and 1992. "Our athletic department is second to none. My facility is the best ever. When I asked for something, I got it. It didn't matter whether I was a state championship coach or not, that's how they treat everybody. I'm a very loyal person and I couldn't even entertain the thought of leaving this school to go anywhere else."
Coaching gymnastics at Merrillville has been a family affair for Roberts. Her husband, Bill, helped her coach from 1980-2005. After that, Roberts' son, Nick, joined her on the coaching staff. Despite not having much knowledge about the sport, Roberts said her son took to coaching naturally.
For Nick, coaching with his mother has been a tremendously enjoyable experience. They also both help coach the club and middle school teams.
"Gymnastics has been part of my life since the day I was born," he said. "Every time we sit down for dinner, it's basically a coaches' meeting, so that's interesting. It definitely never leaves you when it's kind of a family business."
Wanting to keep in touch with her former gymnasts, Roberts finally set up a Facebook account recently. It's no secret that her current and former gymnasts look at her as a mother figure.
"When I'm not at home, I'm here," senior Amy Aponte said. "I always tell my mom when I can't go to her for things, I always go to coach. She's a huge mentor to me."
Roberts has coached countless gymnasts that have gone on to become coaches and officials for the sport around the country, including 2003 Merrillville grad Megan Nellessen (Skorupa), who helps coach Valparaiso's club program.
However, the positive effect Roberts has had on Indiana gymnastics is even felt outside Merrillville.
"I've learned from Diane to go with the flow when it comes to Indiana high school gymnastics," Lake Central coach Bryan Yancy said. "As a high school coach, it's a different mentality and feel (from coaching club). She makes herself very available, and she's always supportive with a good bit of advice."