Jenna Schmitz takes over Perham gymnastics with a winning foundation
PERHAM — The eight-time state champion Perham gymnastics program had little time to replace former Head Coach Charlie Fleck after his contract was not renewed for this season a month before the first meet.
His replacement was groomed under Fleck’s championship tutelage.
Jenna Schmitz was a member of six of the eight state titles and a three-time individual state champion winning back-to-back uneven bars titles from 2008-2010 and the 2010 all-around championship.
While Fleck created the program from acquiring the first trampoline in Perham, right along side him was Schmitz. While change has been brewing heavily in Perham regarding gymnastics, how the program is run will be similar.
“I’m probably pretty damn close to Charlie,” Schmitz said. “From the first day the program existed in Perham, I was there. Obviously, through those 13 years, he was like my second dad. A lot of how I coach will be reflected in the way I coach - from techniques, spotting, being strict and loud, it’s exactly how I coach.”
Little has been expressed publicly about Fleck’s departure. The Lakes Area Gymnastics board released a statement to parents in October that was leaked to media. The board has had no comment since.
The school board voted to not renew Fleck’s contract a few weeks later with all members voting as such, aside from Mike Hamann, who abstained.
“Something good came of what (Fleck) did - eight straight titles. He’s a good coach and whatever happened, I only have good things to say about his coaching. He knew what he was doing and as I said in my coaching interview I was lucky to have him. Not everybody can say they’ve never known losing at state. He did that and he taught me how to coach and handle situations.”
Schmitz was a state champion from seventh grade all the way through her senior season. She takes over the helm in Perham with a history of winning and the confidence of being one of the main building blocks of one of the most successful gymnastics programs in Minnesota.
“I’m not going to sit here and say we have no chance of winning, because we do. The question is can we work as hard as what their potential is and are they willing to work as hard as I’m going to push them to get that champion spot again?”
Schmitz turned down the coaching opportunity multiple times while interning in Perham at Barrel O’ Fun. After the summer, she accepted a full-time position with the company and company representatives worked her schedule to accommodate the needs of her desire to coach, as well.
“I said no a few times. I always wanted to say yes but I felt this is what I should be doing - at Barrel.”
Schmitz will be assisted by fellow coaches Mike Peterson and John Lubitz.
“I’m so grateful that they are helping me, we have 21 girls - one of the biggest teams we’ve had. It’s really hard to find a gymnastics coach, especially in this area.”
Much of the preseason schedule has been spent getting up to speed on all fronts while concentrating on gymnastics and not the coaching change.
“Everyone who has been talking about how the program is going to fail, I’d just like to blow everybody out of the water. It’s supposed to be fun and about the experience, but I want to win. At the end, our main goal is to win state. I have a really young team and just like any other sport you have building years, as well.”
Perham returns a full lineup from last year’s fourth place state team led by sophomore Jordan Martinson and junior Alexis Peichel.
“Jordan is a huge leader. She’s very positive and works hard. She’ll step in and say, ‘C’mon guys, we need to work harder.’”
“Lexi Peichel has grown a lot since I coached her. She’s a leader in telling the girls what to do and not to do.”
Freshman phenom Carly Breitenfeldt also returns with hopes for a full season. She missed much of last season with an ankle injury and performed on bars only in the playoffs.
“We’ve got her back in all four events.”
Schmitz coached many younger gymnasts while in high school and continued to instruct gymnasts after graduation. Part of that group is the core of this year’s team. Not all of this year’s coaching change is new ground.
“I’m here to do one job and that is to get these girls to reach their goals and expectations.”
One of the main goals is a 12th consecutive Section 8A title, something which neighboring Detroit Lakes has pushed hard at the past two seasons. Last year’s Lakers’ squad was ranked higher than Perham going into Sections, but the Yellowjackets and then-coach Fleck found a way to prevail in Park Rapids.
“The only scary thing is (DL) has so much drive and determination if that is their main goal. Maybe they have a little more wanting than some of our girls. All the girls want it. Are they willing to push themselves to the max.”
This year’s Section 8A meet will be held in Perham. The last time it was here was Schmitz’ senior year.
Schmitz takes over with many tangents to the established program and its success and does so with a positive attitude and her own track record of winning set on moving Perham into the next phase of gymnastics excellence.
“Charlie made the program what it is. Stuff happened. Let’s move on. As the coach, that’s all I have to say about it.”