Jordan Baggot leads Middleton’s gymnastics program to next level
The future looks bright for the Middleton gymnastics program.
And when the seeds planted by senior all-around standout Jordan Baggot blossom in future seasons, she’ll be able to look at the results with pride.
“Jordan is in kind of a unique situation, because she came into the team as a varsity gymnast as a freshman,” Middleton coach Kari Steck said. “So whether she realized it or not, she’s always had girls looking up to her — upperclassmen and underclassmen.”
Baggot made it to the WIAA Division 1 state meet as a junior last year, placing 19th in the all-around. She was 14th on the balance beam and 16th in vaulting at individual state. Middleton, which won the Big Eight Conference meet, finished ninth at state, one spot behind Sun Prairie.
“I’ve been able to develop a lot over the four years to become the leader I am because of the upperclassmen I was able to look up to,” Baggot said. “I’d like to think that I lead by example and just give them a person to talk to, inside and outside the gym.”
This year, she is the only senior in Steck’s program — which has grown to include 29 gymnasts, the largest roster the program has fielded.
And with a new WIAA rule coming into play next year — intended to break up the multi-school co-operative mega-programs located mostly in the Milwaukee suburbs — the path to team success will be easier for a program that fends for itself, such as Middleton.
In developing her style — both as a gymnast and a leader — Baggot refers to two-time Olympian Aly Raisman as a role model. When asked what her favorite apparatus is, Baggot immediately responds with “floor,” Raisman’s best event.
Baggot called Raisman a natural leader and the “mom” of the U.S. Olympic teams. She spoke admirably of Raisman’s leadership during USA Gymnastics’ horrific abuse scandal.
In the Middleton gym, Baggot’s leadership task is daunting. There are only four juniors in the program, leaving 24 underclassmen to mentor — many with little to no experience in competitive gymnastics.
“Our numbers have really consistently been growing, which is awesome,” Steck said. “We’ve worked really hard to develop that kind of family atmosphere on the team, and I think that’s something that’s sometimes missing on the club side of gymnastics.”
And when the Middleton underclassmen become the senior leaders, the competitive landscape will have changed. Next year, the WIAA has declared co-operative programs made up of three or more schools that have a combined enrollment greater than the largest school competing as a stand-alone program to be ineligible for postseason team competition.
This year, Sun Prairie (enrollment of 2,368) is the largest stand-alone gymnastics program. Six co-op programs would be ineligible for Division 1 competition if those rules were in effect this season, including the Franklin/Muskego/Oak Creek/Whitnall co-op that has won the past three state titles and seven of the past eight. Seven of the past eight state runners-up also would be ineligible.
It’s like having “five Jordans on one team,” Steck said.
The family atmosphere is a point Steck consistently brings up, believing it to be at the core of the high school gymnastics experience. The sport doesn’t work the same as high school football or basketball — if an athlete is competing at the high school level, odds are long that they have a professional future in the sport.
The commitment to elite club gymnastics often is made when an athlete is still in elementary school, and it is life-altering and can be isolating. At the highest levels of the sport, many audiences perceive gymnastics as a solo show. But Steck and Baggot are committed to fostering an environment at Middleton where the athletes can feel they have a team, with everyone cheering for one another. That, they believe, can lead to growth as individuals and as gymnasts.
“Girls know that, and they want to be a part of that, and I think that’s really cool,” Steck said.