Willmar Gymnastics: Loud and Proud
If you've ever spent any time at a gymnastics meet at Willmar High School, you've probably seen assistant coach Nick Clasemann. If you haven't seen him, you've definitely heard him. Clasemann is the assistant coach for the second-ranked Cardinal ...
If you've ever spent any time at a gymnastics meet at Willmar High School, you've probably seen assistant coach Nick Clasemann.
If you haven't seen him, you've definitely heard him.
Clasemann is the assistant coach for the second-ranked Cardinal gymnastics team by name but he's the team's spirit animal in all actuality. He's the taller of Willmar's male coaches and assuredly the loudest person in the gymnastics room full of cheering fans and supportive teammates.
And the Cardinals like it that way.
"He's my favorite person in the world," said sophomore Abby Coquyt. "If we didn't have Nick, I don't know what we'd do."
Clasemann is always eager to celebrate any new skill in practice or competition, jumping with joy as the gymnast poses for the judge. His reactions are GIF-able and his energy is contagious.
"He's a good guy, he knows how to pump us up a lot," said sophomore Tayva Carruthers. "I think just with that, he loves having a lot of fun. He likes the attention on our team and we're always all riled up to boost our confidence and I think that really helps."
The energy is not only contagious, it's innate.
"Sometimes I don't realize that I'm doing it," Clasemann said. "Anytime a girl lands a big skill, obviously I freak out because I'm so excited that all of their hard work finally paid off."
He works in tandem with the rest of the coaching staff, led by co-head coaches Jodi Mottinger and Doug Rossum. Any good coaching staff features a variety of styles that complement one another and the Cardinals certainly have that dynamic.
"We have three very different coaches," Tayva Carruthers said. "Jodi is the very responsible one. She gets our stuff done, tells us what to do, if we have any questions we go to her. Nick's the one that pumps us all up, makes us loud. Then we have Doug who makes sure we are on top of everything."
Or, as junior Kirah Kessler-Gross puts it, Clasemann is the fun older brother.
"There's nothing negative that comes out of his mouth," Kessler-Gross said. "I just remember when he came into Wings (Willmar's offseason program) and would help us, I would always laugh at everything and I couldn't do gymnastics because you can't do gymnastics when you're laughing. So now I've gotten kind of used to it and let it out during the practices. He's a great guy."
From the moment he sets foot in the room, Clasemann is trading jokes and showing energy. But perhaps the funniest things he says, at least to outsiders, are the nicknames for each gymnast. Throughout any event, he, along with the rest of the team, will cheer loud for Abby "Cold Cut" Coquyt or hype up Presleigh "Parsley Shrubs" Schrupp. No meet is complete without hearing the names Erica "Tuna" Schramm, Abby "Freakshow" Teisinger, Lydia "Dill Pickle" Morrell, Tayva "T-Chains" Carruthers or Kessler-Gross' moniker, "KKG-47."
"Honestly, I don't even know how some of these started at this point," Clasemann said. "Some of them came from mispronunciations when they were actually announcing some of them. I just yell out randomly and don't realize what I'm saying until afterwards, then somebody else says it. I'm like, OK, we're gonna use that one, too, that sounds like fun."
Clasemann isn't just full of one-liners and meme-worthy reactions, though. He, along with Rossum, helps as a spotter during meets and practices, a valuable role that can help prevent major injuries. Spotting, in fact, is how Clasemann joined the gymnastics family.
Clasemann, now a sixth grade science teacher at Willmar Middle School, started teaching at Kennedy Elementary school nine years ago. At that time, the gymnastics team practiced and competed at Kennedy and the young teacher stumbled by practice and asked Rossum, then an assistant coach, if he could try a back handspring. Rossum quipped, 'If you hit me, I'll hit you.' Luckily for Clasemann, he nailed it.
"Then (Larry) Selchow, who was our previous head coach, said, 'Hey, do you have anything going on after school?'" Clasemann said. "And I was like, 'No, I have no life. I'm not from here, I've got nothing going on.' So he said, 'OK, come back in two days and I'll teach you how to spot gymnastics.' And I've never left the gym since. Now I love it, I don't know what I'd do without it."
The gymnastics room is where he met his now-wife, Caylee, who is also a Cardinals assistant coach. The first day he tried a back handspring as an unknowing rookie teacher, Caylee was there helping out at practice as a recent graduate.
Now nine years later, Clasemann is a spotter with words of wisdom in addition to his nicknames and one liners. He's able to point out where something went wrong but more importantly, he's able to point out what went right.
"I'm a firm believer that if we focus on the negative things, that's all we're going to focus on," Clasemann said. "So I try to focus on the positives because I've been yelled at by coaches and it doesn't work. It makes you not want to do the work. I don't believe in that negativity. I just believe in filling them with the positivity and it's amazing how they can rise to the occasion."
The Cardinals have a cycle of positivity going right now, too. They kick off the new year as the No. 2 team in Class A, rocking a best score of 143.458, a tenth of a point ahead of Mahtomedi and just over three-tenths of a point ahead of Central Lakes Conference foe Sartell.
There's still plenty of season left but don't think Clasemann is conserving any energy for a hopeful state run.
"Sometimes I don't realize I'm doing it but there are some days where I'm like, 'Hey, I've got to bring some energy, they seem a little down, let's get this amped up.' So then we kind of take it to another level."
Willmar is one year removed from their first state meet in 21 years and looking every bit as able of making it two years in a row. But they'll need to take it up another level to knock off top-ranked Detroit Lakes, which leads Willmar by nearly five points with a season-high 148.292.
The Cardinals continue to improve as the year develops, though, and it's certainly a possibility Willmar could be hoisting its first piece of gymnastics hardware by the time the year is out.
If that happens, you'll hear about it.