Emma Cavanaugh / Winonan
“Smile On” is not just great life advice – it is the motto of a squad, the anthem of a family. Smile On, also known as the Brooke Baures Memorial meet, is an annual event hosted by Winona State University gymnastics in honor of their teammate who died in December 2014.
This is the second year the team has hosted the meet, and they honored Baures’ memory by winning with a score of 188.400 against the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Three years have passed since her accidental death, but the memory of her smile is still near and dear to those who knew her.
“The name of the meet is taken from the fact that she had an incredibly beautiful smile that warmed the hearts of whomever she saw, and we believe that she’s still smiling down on us from heaven,” head coach Beckie Rolbiecki said.
Rolbiecki said Baures was a “great athlete and a great kid,” the meet is held to keep her spirit alive.
“The first time around it was positive, but it was quite painful,” Rolbiecki said. “This being the second year, we can concentrate more on what she gave to our program and what we learned from her – less emphasis on the pain and the sorrow, and turning it into a celebration of her life and on what we gained from knowing her.”
Baures died her senior year after applying to graduate from Winona State’s social work program.
Due to the absence of seniors on the team, only the junior class gymnasts remembers Baures and her encouraging spirit.
Junior captain Katie Pipp said, “I loved having Brooke in the gym and practicing with her. She had the most beautiful smile and attitude in the gym. She really knew how to push me to be the best gymnast I could be. It was almost as if she knew what I was capable of even when I couldn’t see it myself.”
If one thing stood out this season, it is the Warriors’ “team first” attitude. As the season deepens, they are focusing on cleaning up their routines in order to receive better team scores. Rolbiecki said each girl is keeping her eye on the prize by trying to improve her score by a tenth of a point. The team goal of the Smile On meet was to receive a score of over 184, which they exceeded by more than four points.
Rolbiecki said how you become more of a family in a sport like this, rather than just teammembers.
“Her death rocked our team to the core; it’s the most difficult thing I’ve had to deal with as a coach,” Rolbiecki said. “There’s no guidelines, no path. It’s so difficult to figure out how to get the team and yourself through that horror. They’re young, they see themselves as invincible.”
Baures’ parents, Ron and Kerrie Baures attended the meet, passing out most valuable player awards they put together themselves. It’s their personal way of recognizing talent and reaching out to the gymnastics community.
Before the meet, Pipp said, “Last year, the Smile On meet was a very significant experience for our team because it was the first meet that we celebrated Brooke’s life for the amazing teammate that she was. We were competing for Brooke that night, which made our success feel that much more meaningful. You could almost feel her passion for the sport during all our routines.”
At this year’s special meet, junior Eboni Jackson took first on vault with a score of 9.550, and first-year Kelli Johnston won beam with a score of 9.725. Pipp tied for first on beam with 9.650. The Warriors won almost all of the events over Eau Claire, vault excluded. The meet would normally have been a tournament, but busy schedules prevented more than one university from attending.
The annual meet will continue to keep Baures’ smile and passion alive year after year. Pipp’s goal for the meet was to match Baures’ dedication and passion for the sport.
“This meet is one of my favorites because, not only do I get to compete for my team, I get to show Brooke that the short time we had together made a big impact on my character and my gymnastics my freshman year and it still does to this day,” Pipp said. “It is just a very special night to celebrate the amazing impact Brooke had on all of us.”
By Emma Cavanaugh