By Jeff Johncox
Friday night’s Beauty and the Beast joint meet at Lloyd Noble Center was a strange experience.
One of the oddest combinations sports fans are likely to see took place, and pretty much everyone agreed it was a lot of fun to watch the Oklahoma wrestlers compete next to the Sooner women’s gymnastics team.
“A lot of times our guys get frustrated being called the ‘Beauties,’ though,” OU wrestling coach Jack Spates quipped.
The event started with a high-school homecoming-esque parade of athletes, each wrestler escorting a gymnast from the tunnel to the floor while the announcer introduced them.
Then it turned into something altogether unusual. While men were beating and grappling themselves to a pulp on the south side, a gymnastics meet surrounded them with a flurry of movement.
It was speed and power and grace and precision all at once. At first it was a bit hard to follow, but once everyone got used to it, the crowd became more involved.
And the good news was, both home teams won. The Sooner women beat Minnesota 196.500-195.675, and the OU grapplers downed North Carolina State 38-6.
“A lot of times our crowds think they have to be quiet like it’s tennis or something,” OU women’s gymnastics coach K.J. Kindler said. “But you can make noise throughout. I think at this event, they’re a little louder and more involved and that’s good practice for our gymnasts.”
Sometimes, even the announcer seemed to be having a little fun with it.
At one point, after an injury on the mat, he made one of the strangest introductions ever:
“After a tough takedown, there’s an injury timeout on the mat … And now on the uneven bars, Ashleeeeeeey Jackson!”
The idea started at Missouri and Minnesota, which coincidentally was on hand to witness Friday night’s festivities.
Kindler first came across the concept while coaching at Iowa State a few years ago.
“I thought it was an awesome thing,” Kindler said. “I thought it would be a great idea to do here, and it’s been great.”
And it brings in a few more people, too.
Neither sport exactly fills in the seats every night at McCasland Field House. But Friday, both groups of dedicated fans were on hand to cheer on two very different groups of Sooners.
“I think it’s fun and little something for everyone,” Kindler said. “If the wife wants to come out to watch a little gymnastics, the husband can watch a little wrestling … or the other way around. It’s a fun family event and it appeals to everyone. I thought we had a great crowd.”
Things are really busy down on the floor, too. Both gymnastics squads compete concurrently on different disciplines. Meanwhile, there’s a wrestling bout going on at the same time.
It’s a lot to keep up with, even with excellent big-screen coverage on Lloyd Noble Center’s four video screens, and a helpful announcer calling everything from a single point on a reverse to a stuck landing on the vault.
“You get two teams together who don’t get a lot of publicity and you get a good crowd,” OU wrestler Joey Fio said.
“It’s a lot of fun,” gymnast Hollie Vise said. “It’s a lot different than things we usually do. Wrestling brings in a good crowd and I enjoy it. There’s a lot more going on and I really like it.
There are some distractions. But Kindler likes them. She said her team needs to find a way to focus through all the noise a bigger crowd brings.
It doesn’t always work, however.
“I found myself, and don’t tell my coach, watching a little bit of the wrestling at times,” Vise said. “I should probably have been more focused, but hey, they go to our school, too. We’re going to root for them.”
Fio, meanwhile, was watching a little gymnastics, too.
“It’s strange because you’re trying to cheer a guy on, then there’s this girl doing flips behind you,” he said.
Both squads won and both said the night was a success. And both are hoping to do it again next season.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Vise said. “It’s a lot different than things we usually do. Wrestling brings i a good crowd and I enjoy it. There’s a lot more going on.”