2024 LHSAA State Gymnastics Meet Set For Friday & Saturday

By MIKE STROM // GeauxPreps.com Contributor

Dwayne Johnson Jr. of St. Augustine and the Dutchtown Lady Griffins share more than just a passion for the sport of gymnastics.

Johnson and the Lady Griffins carry an inner drive and determination to reach the top that generally is indulged best by a trip to the victory podium where both are expected to make appearances at this weekend’s Ochsner LHSAA Gymnastics State Championships being staged at Baton Rouge Magnet High School.

Johnson gets first crack on Friday when the boys individuals and team competitions begin at 1:45 p.m. with awards scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Dutchtown follows Saturday when the girls competition begins at 8 a.m. with awards scheduled for 8 p.m.

A sophomore, Johnson is favored to win the boys All-Around gold medal with other possible medals coming in in the six individual events: Floor Exercise; Pommel Horse; Still Rings; Vault; Parallel Bars; and Horizontal Bars. Johnson finished as state runner-up in the All-Around competition last season behind two-time champion and graduated senior Cody Milboe of Walker in addition to winning gold in the Parallel Bars.

“A senior got me. But he’s done now,’’ Johnson said with a good-natured chuckle. “I have high expectations. I’ve been working hard and I feel pretty good. I’ve got a lot of new skills. I’m getting cleaner in my routines more. I’m being more consistent. I did win state this year.’’

The state championship to which Johnson refers was the USAG (United States of America Gymnastics) Louisiana state competition staged March 16 in Baton Rouge where the 5-foot-1, 130-pound swept all six individual events and the accompanying All-Around gold medal.

In addition to his victory in the LHSAA’s Parallel Bars competition in 2023, Johnson finished second in Horizontal Bars and Still Rings and third in Vault. Johnson did not place in Floor Exercise or Pommel Horse, the latter due to a fall.

At the prestigious USAG competition last month, Johnson won all seven gold medals in the Division I Level 10 competition for boys age 16-17 and he believes another sweep is possible in the LHSAA events.

“I plan on doing that,’’ Johnson, 16, said with an inner confidence he attributes to his faith. “That’s just because I’ve got God on my side. Because I know He’s got it.’’

Johnson also competes relatively stress-free, something often easier said than done. His best events are Pommel Horse, Floor Exercise and Still Rings with Vault expected to join that list soon.

“I’m very reboundable,’’ said Johnson, a native New Orleanian, who began competing in gymnastics at age 8. “I don’t really take (to heart) a loss. I always take things as a lesson. And I’m going to go back into the gym and just start working, no matter what. It doesn’t matter if I lose, I don’t really get down. I really just think of what I did.

“I like to work hard at the end of the day. Because I know that’s what it takes to be good. I know being down and not believing in myself is not going to make anything any easier. For you to be good in gymnastics, you have to have one of the best mindsets in the world, I feel.

“I feel I have to be a very strong person because there are so many skills and so many things that you have to focus on, like being tight and staying strong and in shape, and not lacking in confidence in yourself. Because that would really demote you in the sport.

“There are a lot of things that go into gymnastics. You have to work on your air awareness and senses and fast reaction times because anything can happen. You can grip and rip, but you’ve got to make sure you stay on that bar. It’s very technical . . .  Anything can mess you up.’’

Johnson posted the LHSAA’s second best score in 2023 in All-Around (Overall) at 69.300 points, 3.7 points behind Midboe’s winning score of 73.000, and looks forward to becoming St. Augustine’s first All-Around gold medalist gymnast. Johnson’s 2023 scoring total included an 11.800 mark in winning the Parallel Bars.

“I love St. Aug,’’ Johnson said. “(So) this is going to be nice.’’

In regards to dealing with the high expectations and stress levels associated with gymnastics competition, Johnson said, “It’s really about mindset at the end of the day. Because you have to pray, meditate and focus on what you’re doing. At St. Aug since we have Theology (as a curriculum subject), we have to read The Bible and The Bible is going to teach you how to live.

“If you read it, (the message) really (is about) just focus on yourself and really enlighten yourself to others. Because when you are so positive and you have such a good mindset, it makes it easier for you to push harder. When you’re able to push harder, you’re able to give more effort and you get more repetitions. You have it all, to be honest.’’

Baton Rouge Magnet is the reigning Overall boys team champion after scoring 279.50 points last season to beat Caddo Magnet of Shreveport (156.700), Patrick Taylor (118.60) and Walker (72.000).

Patrick Taylor scored 118.600 points to win the Boys Division I (Level 10) competition ahead of Baton Rouge Magnet (113.200) while Baton Rouge Magnet scored 166.300 points to best Caddo Magnet (156.700) in the Division 2 (Level 4) competition.

Kaden Romig of St. Paul’s and Brock Gross of Belle Chasse also are scheduled to compete in the boys individual competition after finishing third and fourth respectively in the Overall competition behind Midboe and Johnson.

Dutchtown’s girls scored 231.050 points to best St. Joseph’s of Baton Rouge’s 229.550 score in the Girls Overall Team competition with Baton Rouge Magnet (228.350), Caddo Magnet (221.375) and Mount Carmel (210.175) rounding out the top five. 

Mount Carmel was the Division 1 (Level 8) champion with a score of 111.100 to top Haynes Academy (108.925), Dutchtown (99.750), St. Joseph’s (74.575) and Dominican (72.175) while Dutchtown won the Division 2 (Level 4) championship with a score of 115.400 to best Baton Rouge Magnet (114.150), St. Joseph’s (114.000), St. Amant (113.400) and Caddo Magnet (111.275).

Dutchtown (116.100) also won the Division 3 (Level 3) competition followed by St. Joseph’s (115.275), Baton Rouge Magnet (115.200), Caddo Magnet (111.600) and St. Amant (109.550).

Sophomores Mallory Mitchell and Hannah Hernandez, senior Kaitlyn Merritt and freshmen Peyton Lambert, Emma Freeman and Trennedy Winters are expected to be Dutchtown’s top individual girls.

Hernandez was the All-Around gold medalist in Level 3 last season with a score of 39.225 points that included two other gold medals in Floor Exercise with a perfect 10.000 score and the Uneven Parallel Bars (9.800).

“The girls are coming back itching to try to do that again,’’ Dutchtown coach Erin McGrew, in her fifth season, said. “I think we have a good chance at a repeat. And I don’t want to get ahead of myself. But I do think we have a good chance at repeating. (Despite) not knowing what’s coming out of the New Orleans area, a lot of those schools have club gymnasts. We don’t see them.

“It’s (makes you) kind of nervous. We’re nervous. We don’t know what other teams are bringing. We know what we’re doing, but we don’t know what these schools from outside of the area are going to show up with on Saturday. St. Joseph’s, I think, is going to give us a run for our money as far as the high schools here (in the Baton Rouge area). Our girls know to take (the competition) seriously. St. Joseph’s is an adversary. St. Amant looks pretty good. Mount Carmel normally is good, too.’’

The Lady Griffins won consecutive state championships in 2003 and 2004 during the Geismar school’s first two years of existence, which also represented the last state championships won since capturing the overall crown in 2023.

“A championship would be fantastic,’’ McGrew said. “But I just want everybody to bring their A game gymnastics (wise) and do the best that they can. If everybody does and does what they’re capable of and puts up the numbers that I know that they can and that they’ve proven that they can, it shouldn’t be a problem (to win). It really shouldn’t.

“It’s just (about) keeping everybody focused and centered and not letting the nerves get the best of them. Because it’s a solo sport. And we are a team. But it’s not like football where you’re on a team. You’re not hiding on a field with 20 other kids. You’re not dependent on other people. It’s solo and that kind of gets in their heads a little bit. Your nerves can get to you a little bit.

“It’s just (about) keeping everybody centered. It’s no different than practice. It’s the same equipment. I tell them you’ve done this thousands of times. It’s no different. It’s just one more time.’’

Dutchtown’s gymnastics success has swelled the girls numbers to their highest levels to date with 44 currently in the program pared down from the 60-plus who showed up for 2024 tryouts. The 2023 state champions totaled 30 participants.

“I’m shocked by the volume of kids that it has grown to,’’ McGrew said. “I started in 2019 with 12 girls, all club girls.’’

McGrew particularly enjoys seeing the camaraderie on display between the athletes who have competed for years and continue to compete against one another at the USAG club level.

“It’s kind of funny because all these gymnasts know each other from club days,’’ McGrew said. “So it’s kind of like a reunion for them. They’ve competed against each other for years and years and years. Now it’s just a little bit different environment.’’

One important role McGrew tries to fill is, “I try to keep it stress-free as possible without all of the typical gymnastics heaviness that comes with club gym. I want it to be fun. I want it to uplift these girls and boost their confidence.

“While I want to challenge them, I’m not going to ask them to do things that they’re not capable of. But I do want to push them to do things that I absolutely know that they can. You just have to give them the confidence to know they can do it.’’