Coach Susan Barborak has coached Gymnastics at Fairfax High for the last seven years. The first two years were spent under a coach that didn’t seem very knowledgeable about the sport. This past season was Barborak’s fifth season as head coach which after a lot of hard work has led to the team’s very first state championship.
Fairfax High is not known for being a top school when it comes to sports, especially when it comes to gymnastics, especially when compared to other schools such as Robinson High. According to Coach Barborak the last time Fairfax High won a state competition was back in the 1980s.
The path to glory was not easy, last year saw the team win their first Patriot League Competition and dreams of winning state were not a real possibility. A series of injuries and exhaustion led to the Lady Lions falling short of the win. According to Barborak there was certainly disappointment but there was also a drive to try to get better, the year of their win would be a strange one.
Of course, 2020 was the year of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Coach Barborak says that no one was sure what was even going to happen because of the pandemic. No one knew if they were going to be able to compete, they certainly didn’t know what the team was going to look like considering many parents weren’t going to allow their kids to compete.
Those that were allowed to join were extremely motivated and happy to see their teammates once again. Things were different though, celebratory gestures such as chest bumps and high fives were replaced by elbow rubs in order to avoid potentially contracting the virus but the experience turned out to be a bright spot in an otherwise awful year.
Coach Barborak tried to make the best of it, they did have to follow pandemic rules such as wearing masks, using their own chalk, staying six feet apart, spraying down equipment after use, and using hand sanitizer. That also included no spectators during the competitions which Barborak described as a very eerie and unnatural feeling.
The team did much to try to keep the energy high during the competitions, they cheered for each other louder than they ever had and played music that would inspire them to go the distance. The work paid off as they once again won the Patriot District Championship and then became the Occoquan District Champions.
Then the team went to Richmond to compete for the State Championships, not only did the team win but members of the team won in individual competition as well. Junior Payton Morrison placed first in all-around competition after coming in third last year. Morrison was joined by her teammate Kendall Vess who came in second place on the beam event and third on the floor event.
“These wins came as a result of confidence built over the last two years. All these girls, whether it was the team or Morrison and Vess in the individual events, they all worked hard. We all cried.” Says Coach Barborak about when everyone realized they had won.
The victory was sweet but the aftermath was kind of anti-climatic as Barborak would describe the lack of photographers and award banners that would come from a normal year. It was odd, but there were no complaints about it considering the situation.
What happens to the team next year is up in the air according to Coach Barborek,
“We haven’t thought that far ahead, we don’t know what the team’s going to look like next year. But this is a game of youngsters and there’s a chance that a new freshman could come in and make a huge impact that could change the complexation of the team. It could help the team do very well next year.”