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Gymnastics coaches say goodbye

Brian Whipple, left, and Shelly Kahut-Loomis have stepped down as coaches for the Wildcat gymnastics team after 13 years coaching together. Whipple started as an assistant in 1997 and remained with the program when Kahut-Loomis returned as the head coach in 1999. Together the pair helped guide the Cats to five state titles. <i>Bob Burrows photo</i>

Over the last 13 years, the Wildcat gymnastics team has solidified its position as one of the most successful high school teams in the state, in any sport.

Eleven straight trips to the WIAA State Tournament, five state championships, four state runner-up finishes, nine Big Rivers Conference titles, the list goes on and on.

But when the 2012-13 team meets for the first day of practice Monday, Nov. 5, two people who helped create the Wildcat gymnastics dynasty won't be there.

Head coach Shelly Kahut-Loomis and assistant coach Brian Whipple both announced last month they are leaving the program, Whipple, to spend more time with his young family, while Kahut-Loomis said after 27 years of coaching, it's simply time to move on.

"This wasn't an easy decision," Whipple said. "There were a lot of sleepless nights and lots of talking with my wife, trying to make the best decision for my family. I've got two young kids, a newborn (7-months) and a three year-old. I want to put my kids and my family first."

Kahut-Loomis said another assistant coach, Bridgette DuRose left at the end of last year to take a teaching job in Minnesota. When Whipple decided to leave she saw the writing on the wall.

"Bridget got a teaching job and moved on so I was already looking for a new assistant coach," she said. "Then Brian moved on. I think it came down to, I knew I couldn't do it the way I wanted to do it without Brian.

"I knew when it was time to be done, and coaching was over, it would be evident and it was," she added. "Unfortunately the timing wasn't the best, but it couldn't be avoided. I had been telling Rollie (activities director Rollie Hall) for three years; you know, I'm getting older. I'm over 50 and can't do this much longer."

Hall said the school is sad to lose two individuals who have contributed so much to one of the best programs in the state of Wisconsin.

"Their efforts have been appreciated and will be missed," he said. "Hopefully, the pattern of excellence that they have established will continue in the program."

With the naming of former Wildcat state champion Rachel Paulson as the team's new head coach, Kahut-Loomis believes it will.

"I'm very happy that Rachel has agreed to take over, it is in good hands," she said. "I wanted it to be somebody I would be proud to hand the program over to."

Paulson won the WIAA State all-around title as a senior with the Wildcats in 2009. She has served as a volunteer assistant with the Cats alongside Kahut-Loomis and Whipple and most recently coached at the youth level with the River Falls Gymnastics Club. This past summer she returned to competition and won a national AAU title in the all-around.

"I have offered any and all help that Rachel asks me for," Kahut-Loomis said. "And I'm wishing her the happiness in coaching that I have received."

Kahut-Loomis, a River Falls High School graduate herself, placed second at the WIAA State Meet as a Wildcat in 1977. She spent five years coaching the Cats from 1979-84 before spending two years in Worthington, Minn. She served as head coach at Hudson High School from 1986-93, where she won three BRC titles and took the Raiders to state three times, and was a gymnastics judge for five years before returning to coach the Wildcats in 1999.

Over her 27-year career, Kahut-Loomis has taken 16 teams to state. Five of her Wildcat teams were crowned state champions and four more runner-up. She has coached 12 individual state champions and many more individual medalists.

But she said it was never about the statistics for her and Whipple.

"We just kept coaching and doing what we do, year after year," she said. "We have had many successful seasons that didn't show up in the record books. There's much more to think about with coaching than the outcomes. Outcomes can drive people. We dream of the outcomes and the results, but it is the process and relationships that make you show up day after day."

Whipple, also a RFHS graduate, stumbled into coaching gymnastics as a physical education major at UW-River Falls. After taking a class at UWRF as part of his major he was asked by his friend Stacy Einum, then head coach of the Wildcats, if he would like to help out.

"When I started I was just helping out a friend who was coaching at the time," he said. "And it was more of a way to make some extra money."

After graduating UWRF in 1999, Whipple worked as a substitute teacher at the high school and middle school until 2005 before taking a full-time position with the River Falls Parks and Recreation Department.

Kahut-Loomis said she came to rely more and more on Whipple through the years, giving her the flexibility to attend her sons Cam's and Garrett's athletic events and helping extend her coaching longevity

"At first Brian started out as my assistant, but for the last years we have been considered as coaching partners," she said. "Working with him the last 13 years has been a special time in my life that I will always hold close to my heart. The memories are my treasures."

Whipple said he'll miss the day-to-day interaction with the kids the most.

"But now I get to take my daughter to gymnastics practice and be a parent," he said. "I'm still looking forward to going to meets and cheering on the kids. Like I told them; this isn't goodbye; I'll see ya when I see ya, and I'll be cheering you on."

Kahut-Loomis said she's been touched by the outpouring of support from people involved with the program over the years.

"I've been overwhelmed and humbled by the messages, in all the different ways you can receive them these days," she said. "It just feels good to know they thought our time together was important and special. Those relationships, they won't happen again. A big chapter of my life book is closing, but it had a good ending."

While they won't be together at the first day of gymnastics practice Nov. 5, the pair has made other plans.

"We have a date," Kahut-Loomis said. "We're going out to dinner together."

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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