At the USA Gymnastics Region 4 Championships on April 8 at the Gangelhoff Center in St. Paul, Southwest Junior High eighth-grader Blake Johnson added six more gold medals to his large and ever-growing collection, becoming the regional champion in six of the seven possible categories in the Level 8, age 13-14 division.
Gymnasts from more than 40 clubs in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska and the Dakotas competed in the regional meet. Johnson won the floor exercise (11.7), pommel horse (11.55), rings (12.25), vault (11.95), high bar (11.6) and all-around (70.55) titles, topping a field of 16 gymnasts in his division. He also placed sixth in the parallel bars (11.5), one place shy of adding yet another medal to his cache.
Johnson’s medals are displayed at home in a former rifle case. He earns approximately 60 medals and awards each season from meets all throughout the country. In addition to his regional haul, he recently picked up nine prizes at the Minnesota state championships on March 25, and five more at a large invitational in Las Vegas.
Johnson, 14, has been involved in gymnastics for as long as he can remember and has been competing for over eight years.
Johnson is a member of the Mini-Hops gym, which he cites as Minnesota’s best. Johnson’s Mini-Hops team, under the direction of Mike Morse, proved their strength by winning the state team championship.
“I’ve been to other gyms, and they just weren’t as good,” Johnson said.
The name Mini-Hops is a play on the cities of Minnetonka and Hopkins. Johnson travels to the western suburbs every weekday afternoon after school and every Saturday morning for three- to four- hour training sessions. The journey takes between 40 minutes and an hour each way, depending on traffic.
Of the constant travel, Johnson simply said, “It’s worth it.”
In addition to a desire to receive the best coaching possible, Johnson’s travel is necessitated, in part, because the Minnesota State High School League does not sponsor boys gymnastics as a varsity sport.
The lack of the high-school opportunity also means that Johnson’s gymnastics career may be at its end. There is no Level 8 competition beyond the age of 14; if he wishes to continue competing, he must earn promotion to Level 9, which allows competition through age 16. To move up, he will need to add more difficult skills to his routines.
“We’ll see about moving up,” Johnson said. “I’m in the ballpark.”
There is also no national meet for Level 8 gymnasts of his age, meaning his season ended at regionals even though he dominated his division.
If Johnson’s gymnastics career is destined to end before he enrolls at Forest Lake High School, he still expects to represent the Rangers in football. As is becoming common among gymnasts, Johnson knows how to pole vault, so he should be a fixture in the Ranger track and field program as well. He has also played baseball in the past.
Even though gymnastics is not a high-school activity for boys, Johnson hopes that people will become more aware of the talent and dedication of boys in the sport.
“Boys gymnastics is a thing, and a lot of people do it,” Johnson said.