By Frank Aceto | Record Publishing Co.
I could see it coming from a mile away.
And I did everything in my power to make sure I was prepared for it.
It was March of 2011 and the Hudson gymnastics team qualified for the Division I state meet.
The Lady Explorers were no strangers when it came to competing on gymnastics’ ultimate stage.
And the 2010-11 team was perhaps the greatest squad ever in school history.
So it was imperative that I made this a huge deal.
I decided to take a big sports section for Wednesday’s edition.
I figured that Hudson would finish in the top three and have at least an individual or two earn All-Ohio honors in one or more events.
As it turned out, I made the right choice.
The Lady Explorers finished a close second to the practically invincible juggernaut known as Brecksville-Broadview Heights.
And Hudson’s fantastic four shined in the individual competition.
Seniors Sophia Horsch, Alyssa Gurreri and Jaylen Lewis ended their careers in style with dazzling performances.
And of course, there was pint-sized sophomore Bridget Madel, who won the bars competition to become Hudson High School’s first state champion since hurdler Lauren Echko in 2005.
Unfortunately, I did not attend the state meet, so I had to contact these individuals, along with their head coach, Randi Chepke, if I wanted to create this gymnastics bonanza that I envisioned a few days earlier.
Contacting Randi was the easy part.
She sent me a very thorough email highlighting both the team and individual competitions.
Thanks to her specific details and great quotes, I had two fairly easy stories to write.
My next agenda was to track down Sophia, Alyssa, Jaylen and Bridget for sidebars.
That turned out to be easier said than done.
First of all, I took the weekend off, so that meant I had to get everything done Monday, which is our deadline day for Wednesday’s paper.
And of course, school is in session Monday and since the four teenagers most likely had to attend classes throughout the day, it’s safe to say they weren’t going to have much free time to talk to a reporter.
But I still felt confident.
I figured the seniors had a free period or maybe all four of them could get back to me during their lunch break or right after school.
So I contacted athletic secretary Amy White.
I can’t tell you how much Amy has helped me throughout the years.
I’ve contacted her about interviewing students a number of times in the past and she always made it happen.
During our conversation, I asked her if I could possibly call the four teenagers or maybe they could call me.
I could sense that I put Amy in an uncomfortable position right away.
“Well, Sophia, Alyssa and Jaylen have classes all day and Bridget is not in school because she’s sick,” Amy said.
My heart practically stopped.
Here I am on a deadline day and my big plan was quickly on the verge of being completely destroyed.
I wasn’t holding out hope when it came to interviewing the three seniors. I figured maybe I could talk to them shortly after school.
Nevertheless, that seemed shaky because I didn’t have their phone numbers.
As far as my situation with Bridget, well, let’s just say that story was pretty much toast.
Unless I could call her at home, that interview wasn’t going to happen.
And again, I didn’t have her phone number.
So the next few hours were some of the longest I’ve ever had at RPC.
I got some of the other stuff done (after all, other sports were taking place in Hudson too and I also had to put my Streetsboro Gateway News’ sports section together), but my mind was somewhere else.
I could hear my inner soul screaming this line over and over again.
“What in the world am I going to do?!”
Finally around 2 p.m. or so, Amy told me Sophia, Alyssa and Jaylen were willing to meet me at 3:15 at the high school.
At that point, I started to feel a little bit better.
I enthusiastically told Amy I would be there.
During the drive, I let out a few sighs of relief. But then my mood quickly changed.
Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to get a chance to talk to these young ladies and do a story on their fabulous careers at Hudson.
Still, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about the story that wasn’t going to happen.
You see, Bridget’s state title was supposed to be my top story and other than her results and a few nice quotes from her coach, I didn’t have much.
I tried to look at the positives.
“At least I’ll be able to get to talk to the three seniors,” I thought.
And of course, I had a deadline to meet, so I didn’t want to try to do too much and risk being late.
As I got to the athletic office, I saw the recognizable faces of the three seniors.
They smiled and made me feel welcome.
Since I was a bit discombobulated because it was a deadline day and the fact that Bridget was still on my mind, my interview with the three young ladies was kind of chaotic.
My questions were more ramblings where I felt like I wasn’t sure what I was asking.
The seniors’ answers were a bit short mainly because of my clumsy way of questioning them.
They were polite and they answered my questions. But I just wasn’t feeling good about this.
Simply put, I wasn’t getting the elaborate answers I was seeking.
It certainly wasn’t their fault.
They had a long weekend and they just had a full day of school, so I certainly didn’t hold a grudge against them for not being that talkative.
And of course, since I stumbled mightily during the interview (did a lot of uh ... uh ... uh ...), I didn’t exactly help my situation either.
I continued to ask questions even though someone in my brain kept saying, “This is a disaster!”
After a long pause as I hopelessly tried to figure out a good question to ask, a tiny young lady with glasses entered the room.
She looked familiar. As you can imagine, that was a good sign.
And then I heard the magic words.
“Hey Bridge,” one of the young ladies said.
My heart must have skipped about 27 beats.
“Oh my gosh ... that’s BRIDGET MADEL!” I thought to myself.
As the young lady took her seat next to her three teammates, I said rather awkwardly, “Bridget?”
“Hi,” she said. “Sorry, I’m late.”
Suddenly, I felt an adrenaline rush go through my body.
I confidently asked the seniors more questions and they gave me more elaborate answers.
Bridget joined the interview too.
I didn’t use her quotes for the story on the senior trio, but her words seemed to inspire her teammates to provide the answers I was seeking.
Yes, in a matter of seconds, my situation did a total 180.
Shortly after the interview with the three seniors, I thanked them for their time and congratulated them.
And then I got a one-on-one session with Bridget.
In a word, Bridget was, well, WONDERFUL.
She was a ball of energy and was absolutely thrilled to tell me every detail about the state meet.
It turns out Bridget was sick with a nasty fever the day of the individual competition.
In other words, she probably had no business participating.
Despite her illness, she decided to compete and obviously, had no regrets.
Our Q&A lasted at least 20 minutes and it didn’t take long for the interview to turn into a conversation.
I felt more and more comfortable talking to her as she told me great story after great story.
I was actually sad to see the interview end.
Obviously, I had a deadline to meet and Bridget, even though she told me she felt a lot better, needed to rest after a marathon weekend.
I thanked her and congratulated her, but I felt like I owed her so much more.
Bridget, along with Sophia, Alyssa and Jaylen, had just saved me from potential disaster and I certainly didn’t want to take them for granted.
I don’t remember if I made deadline or not that day. I’m still working, so if I didn’t, the consequences were minor.
One way or another, I had a great section and I was so grateful that four terrific teenagers took time out of their busy schedules to tell me their stories.
Several months later, the Hudson Hub-Times got second place for best sports coverage in the Ohio Newspaper Association Osman C. Hooper Contest.
And yes, this section was one of the entries.
Thank you, Randi, Sophia, Alyssa and Jaylen.
And Bridget, if you happen to come across this post, thank you ... for everything.