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On the map: Park grad Pierre, 21, lands first head coaching job

Peterson Pierre, 21, was named the head gymnastics coach at Woodbury High School. Pierre, flanked by Royals gymnasts at a recent practice, is a 2010 graduate of Park High School. (Bulletin photo by Patrick Johnson)1 / 3
Woodbury head coach Peterson Pierre shows a gymnast an exercise. (Bulletin photo by Patrick Johnson)2 / 3
New Woodbury head gymnastics coach Peterson Pierre spots gymnast Madelyn Pearson during practice. (Bulletin photo by Patrick Johnson)3 / 3

Peterson Pierre’s interest in gymnastics began with wanting to learn how to do flips in the gym at Park High School. That initial spark has been a springboard to his first head coaching job.

Pierre, 21, has been named the head gymnastics coach at Woodbury High School.

“He and his friends would come in the gym and learn how to do flips and spot each other,” said Park head gymnastics coach Terry Hardy. “I approached him with the idea of learning how to be a spotter. He started to come in and learned how to do that.”

Hardy took Pierre under his wing and the two discussed opportunities available in the sport of gymnastics.

“He adapted very quickly and understood the philosophies of gymnastics, the rules of the sport and the principals of technique and form,” Hardy said. “He excelled so fast I wasn’t surprised.”

Originally brought on board as an assistant coach this year, Pierre is filling the vacancy left by Elizabeth Sampson, who was hired as the head coach this summer. Sampson stepped down even before the Royals’ first meet this season, because of a career change.

“We’re excited that he’s with us,” Woodbury Activities Director Jason Gonnion said. “He’s an outstanding athlete and his youthful energy has really invigorated the team and the whole program — it’s permeated into every corner. I think we’re in great hands with him.”

Sampson took the reins of the Woodbury gymnastics program from former head coach Julie Dornseif. Sampson was teaching in the Spanish immersion program, but became a fifth-grade teacher this winter.

“She put in a tremendous amount of work in the offseason and built a great structure,” Gonnion said. “She’s unbelievably organized and just a great coach. All of our coaches are professionals first and coaches second. From that standpoint it was a decision that she made professionally. She’s a dynamite teacher. Not taking that job wouldn’t have been the best thing for her and her family.”

With the head coach stepping down right before the season, Gonnion said he would have “had a lot of concern” if the program didn’t have quality coaches and other leaders, with Pierre heading the list.

Pierre had applied for the head coaching job, as well, this summer, but finished runner-up to Sampson, who had already been an assistant coach at Woodbury.

“The only reason he didn’t get it was because Elizabeth had been with our program,” Gonnion said. “It was really tough. We had a group that was really excited about Peterson. Fortunately we were able to talk Peterson into joining as an assistant and he got a position here at the high school. We’re very fortunate to have him.”

Peterson is the youngest head coach in the district and likely one of the youngest head coaches in the state.

But that doesn’t concern Gonnion.

“There was really no risk, because he’s got such strong character,” Gonnion said. “He’s a high-quality person and an educator by nature. The only piece that’s missing is experience. That takes time. You can’t get experience without having the opportunity. The youthfulness, if surrounded by great experience and support, can really be a tremendous asset.”

Pierre is a 2010 graduate of Park High School, where he played football, wrestled and competed in track and field. While at Park, he assisted Park’s co-head coaches Mark Sikich and Hardy. After graduation, Pierre was an assistant coach at Henry Sibley for two years.

Pierre wrestled for two years for Jim LaBrosse at Park.

“He was dedicated, hard-working and committed,” LaBrosse said. “It doesn’t surprise me to see what he’s doing. I think he’ll do a great job. He learned from two great coaches in Mark Sikich and Terry Hardy. This seems like a natural fit for him.”

Pierre said the idea of being a teacher and coach first came to him his senior year.

“I just wanted to do more, have more responsibility and learn more about this sport,” he said. “I wanted to have my own gym and my own program and be a complete coach.”

Pierre said one major key to success — in athletics and otherwise is having a positive mental attitude.

“That’s one thing Liz brought in that we’re going to continue,” Pierre said. “You need a positive mental attitude to compete at your highest level. If you’re focused on what you can control and doing the best you can do that helps you do a lot better. We have a lot of great girls on this team. I’m excited to see them reach their potential.”

Pierre is a paraprofessional at Woodbury, working mainly with special education students. He spent two years studying at Hamline University and said he is hoping to pursue a degree in youth ministry.

“One of the things that jumps out with Peterson is the quality of his character and his integrity,” Gonnion said. “That’s really evident and it’s contagious. That’s really exciting. He works here in the building. Those connections with kids are so important. We see him working with students every day and he’s dynamite. We’re really fortunate to have him lead our gymnastics program.”

Pierre said he feels his youth, energy and background as an athlete are plusses.

“I like to keep it high energy in the gym,” Pierre said. “I like a good work ethic, too. I’m going to challenge them to get working, because that’s how we get better. I’ve been an athlete my whole life and I understand the conditioning part. I want them to feel like they’re moving forward and can see progress by moving on to higher skills.”

Peterson admitted he feels his main challenge will be the administrative side of the job.

“I need to learn more about it,” he said. “Also, being a head coach forces you to learn the rule book and learn the best combinations so the athlete is really utilizing all their potential and having the highest starting values in their routines.”

Last year, Woodbury won two conference meets, finished in sixth place in the eight-team section tournament and sent one gymnast to the state meet.

The Royals’ lineup is youthful this year, with only one senior on the team — Rose Peterson, the team captain. However, Pierre likes the team’s prospects.

“We’re trying to get this program on the map,” Pierre said. “We hope our fans will come out and support us. If you have people come out supporting us it’ll help the girls compete at a higher level. We can be one of those top schools. We know that’s what we can do. We have that potential.”

-Patrick Johnson

Patrick Johnson
Patrick Johnson has been the South Washington County Bulletin’s sports editor since 2008. He reports on and oversees coverage of high school and amateur sports in south Washington County and Woodbury. Prior to joining the Bulletin, Johnson worked for other Twin Cities suburban newspapers. He is a University of Minnesota graduate.
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