The Gold Medal Gang; The 2005 Lady Knight gymnasts were the best in school history

By John Goralski

Sports Writer

When the Lady Knights entered the Milford gym for the 2005 Class L championship meet, a hush descended upon the crowd.

Gymnasts stopped their practice routines to get a better look at the team that had a stranglehold on the state’s sports headlines. Coaches stared. Officials laid down their pens to get their first look at the Southington team.

And the Knights were just getting started.

“We definitely felt it,” said former Lady Knight gymnastics coach Byron Knox. “There was a lot of pressure. They were watching us like hawks in warm-ups, and it wasn’t just gymnasts. It was the coaches and officials. I think people were mesmerized from what they saw from us. From our first kid to our last kid, we were incredible.”

There’s been a long standing debate among gridiron fans. Which team is better? The 1949 Lewis High School team or the 1954 Southington High School squad? Fans have argued about which softball championship was the greatest or which girls basketball team was the most powerful.

But when it comes to Southington teams and their impact on a sport, no other team can match the 2005 Southington gymnasts. In a sport that’s decided by less than a point, they won by dozens. In a sport where records are broken after the decimal point, Southington bested previous marks by five or six points.

When it comes to team sports, the 2005 Lady Knights were in a league of their own.

“If you equate what we did to other sports, it would be like winning a football game by 50 points…at the state championship,” said Knox. “I don’t think that there can be an argument. I don’t think you can debate it at all. What that team did was unprecedented, and I don’t think we’ll ever see something like that again.”

It’s almost hard to believe that Southington entered that 2005 season without a single state title in gymnastics. Lady Knight gymnasts had come close as runners up for three consecutive seasons. In 2004, they were edged by Hall in the final event by 0.2 points, but the Knights were already turning the corner when Knox took over the team at the start of the 2005 season. So when a small tide of club gymnasts followed him into the team’s first practices, the first-year coach knew that something big was about to happen.

The team returned gymnasts that had already set program records in every event. The team had already set a program record with 142.2 points at the 2004 Class L meet. Jess Gianatti returned to the lineup as a sophomore with team records in two events, but even she wasn’t guaranteed a spot on the opening day roster.

After just a few days of practice, Knox knew that his team was about to do something special.

“The competition within the team itself was tougher than anything that any other team could throw at us,” he said. “We were jockeying for first and second, second and third, and it was every day at practice. It was so great to coach a group of girls that were friendly to each other but at the same time they were completely competitive. One would show a routine at practice, and then another one would try to top her. They would just keep showing me routines back to back to back.”

“We have enough girls to field two teams and be pretty competitive throughout the state,” Knox told The Observer during a preseason interview. It sounded like a boastful statement at the time, but his team was about to prove him right.

On Jan. 4, the Knights opened the season with a 46-point victory in the high school gym with a 146.9 team score that shattered the school record. They rallied for 19 wins as Knox shuffled gymnasts in and out of the lineup like a Vegas black jack dealer, and Southington kept raising the bar higher and higher as the Knights navigated a schedule that would be too physically demanding for most teams.

“We had to have five scores from six different meets in order to qualify, so we had to get enough meets so that every kid had a chance to qualify for the state meet,” Knox said. “We had a lot of kids on the team, and I really felt that most of them were good enough to compete at the conference level. I wasn’t wrong.”

The team averaged over 148 points during the regular season and broke the 150-point barrier twice. When they scored 150.85 points against five teams at the Farmington Invitational in late January, the Knights began to see an influx of photographers and journalists at their regular season meets. By the time they broke the ‘unbreakable score’ again in late February, the Lady Knight gymnasts were snatching sports headlines away from the more popular sports.

The girls enjoyed the spotlight, and they used it to bring even more excitement to their routines. They began rhythmic chanting on the sidelines and exploding into cheers when a teammate stuck a routine. That didn’t happen prior to the 2005 team, but it started a tradition that has carried into the present day.

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