Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Gymnastics Assistants Play Big Role in Alabama's Success

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Gymnastics Assistants Play Big Role in Alabama's Success

Article excerpt

By Marc Torrence

Special to The Tuscaloosa News

TUSCALOOSA | University of Alabama gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson and husband David have put together a coaching staff that finds itself in a situation unique to top gymnastics programs.

NCAA rules allow for only three full-time women's gymnastics coaches at one school. Alabama has four that essentially work full- time, but only three are paid to do so. David Patterson gave up his salary in 2008 due to back problems, allowing Alabama to hire a second full-time assistant.

This uncommon setup gives Alabama a distinct advantage in developing gymnasts as well as recruiting new ones. It also keeps coaching turnover at a minimum.

Bryan Raschilla and Dana Duckworth have coached for almost 30 combined years in the shadows of David and Sarah Patterson. But the pair is crucial to keeping the Crimson Tide competing for national championships every year.

An unlikely coach

It's a Wednesday and Alabama is going through a full practice for the first time since the Southeastern Conference Championships. Gymnasts begin jogging in a circle on a crimson floor mat, with Raschilla high-fiving every one of them.

The practice facility got a makeover in the offseason. Now all the mats are crimson and the walls show blown-up pictures of former Crimson Tide stars and championship teams.

Raschilla had a major hand in the redesign, drawing up the images and ordering new mats to match. He wasn't always a gymnastics coach, nor did he think it was in his future. He played tight end in high school and earned a degree in graphic design from Youngstown State. When he was in high school, the gymnastics coach approached him about helping with spotting. At 6-foot-5, he was the perfect fit.

"She figured if I could catch a football, I could catch a person," Raschilla said.

He continued coaching age-group gymnastics while in school and club gymnastics after college. Eventually, the Ohio native and lifelong Buckeyes fan found himself on staff at the University of Michigan.

After two years in Ann Arbor, Sarah Patterson contacted him about an opening on Alabama's staff. Raschilla was in a tough situation - he had agreed not to visit or interview with other schools. But there was someone else who hadn't.

"We had to recruit his wife," Sarah Patterson said. "We brought Laura down and recruited her and got her a job at the hospital. I was like, 'Well, your wife is coming. Are you?'"

Raschilla took the job, and he and his wife have now seen three national championships, four SEC championships and the birth of their two kids, Adam and Kathryn.

"I can't begin to tell you how much I've grown as a coach and a person working for them for 17 years," Raschilla said.

The perfect fit

Kaitlyn Clark is struggling on the balance beam. She keeps coming up short on her dismount, forcing her to take an extra step when she lands. …

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