By Andy Sneddon
Republished from Centralight Fall 2018
Coach Jerry Reighard sits in his Rose Center office. On one wall hang framed photos of each of his Mid-American Conference championship teams. On a long shelf over the window are plaques and more plaques.
"Geographically, where we are sitting right now was a cornfield, and so I've seen the evolution," Reighard said, reflecting first on his days in the early 1970s as a student-athlete at Central Michigan University when he practiced and competed at Finch Fieldhouse.
"If you are true to yourself and do what you know is right, the world is fine." — Jerry Reighard, gymnastics coach
CMU has changed with the times, and so has Reighard. Any successful coach —any successful person — knows you either evolve or you become irrelevant.
Reighard made Chippewa gymnastics relevant, then he made it good and then great. To get to the top is one thing. Staying there is another.
Evolution of excellence
After working in the CMU Chippewa program as a graduate assistant, Reighard left CMU for Ionia High School in the mid 1970s. He coached the Bulldogs to a pair of state titles, and when the opportunity came in 1984 to return to CMU, Reighard seized on it.
His first Mid-American Conference championship came in 1990. In March, well into his fourth decade in charge of the program, he led the Chippewas to the league regular-season title and then to a first-place finish at the MAC Championships. That gave him an unprecedented 24 league crowns — and 24 team photos on that wall in his office.
"I've seen probably 14 buildings being built on this campus," he said, "which energizes me all the time to see how we are progressing."
He doesn't always like that progress. He is no fan of social media, for example, but he recognizes that ignoring it won't make it disappear. He deals with it, just as his gymnasts have learned to deal with and overcome whatever is in their way.
Deep down, he carries the same principles, constitution and integrity that has enabled him to become among the most successful and most respected in his field on a national level.
"You simply learn to be yourself, and I think that's the key to being successful in any job," he said. "If you are true to yourself and do what you know is right, the world is fine. When you try to manipulate things and go outside the norms, that's when you don't last.
"I think when you keep a level head on your shoulders, you know you have the right faith."
Staying the course and being true to his ideals has kept CMU as the premier women's gymnastics program in the MAC. And Reighard continues to operate with singlemindedness: "One of the promises I make to all my athletes is that I will get every 10th of a point out of you that you have inside of you. I promise them that.
"That's the way I coach, and that hasn't changed."
He just won't tweet about it.
Jerry Reighard's numbers
2 All-Americans (Kylie Fagan, 2015; Katy Clements, 2018).
5 Consecutive CMU Chippewa wins at the MAC Championships from 2010-14, a league record.
5 CMU Chippewas who have earned the MAC Gymnast of the Year Award.
6 CMU Chippewas who have earned the MAC Freshman of the Year Award.
8 CMU Chippewas who have earned the MAC Senior Gymnast of the Year Award.
8 MAC regular-season title wins for the best dual record. The league began awarding the regular-season championship in 2002.
8 CMU Chippewas who have won individual NCAA Regional championships; six in the past five years.
9 MAC Coach of the Year honors, a record.
15 Times CMU gymnasts have been named All-MAC since the league began selecting a squad in 2013.
24 Combined Mid-American Conference championships.
43 Years of marriage for Reighard and his wife, Nancy, a former CMU gymnast.
76 CMU Chippewas who have won individual MAC titles since Reighard took over the program in 1984-85.
84 Times a CMU Chippewa gymnast has been selected to the MAC Championships All-Tournament team.