Amid a group of hulking football players signing college scholarships Wednesday morning at a joint Hahnville-Destrehan signing ceremony, one athlete seemed to stand out among the rest.
It was with good reason because she was the only trailblazing athlete in the room.
Young men from Hahnville and Destrehan were following the in footsteps of generations of football players before them in signing scholarships to continue their playing careers on the next level.
For Kamryn Ryan, she literally created her own opportunity.
As a freshman at Hahnville, Ryan convinced the powers that be in the St. Charles Parish School System to start a gymnastics program. The big payoff came four years later when she became the first gymnast from the school system to ever sign a college athletic scholarship.
Ryan signed with the University of Alabama – a six-time NCAA champion.
“It’s kind of bittersweet to know that,” Ryan said of being a trailblazing athlete. “It was kind of my dream to start a Hahnville gymnastics team. With the awesome (school) district and parish that we have, I was able to do it.
“The amount of support we had in this community was just unreal. It was amazing. Me, with the idea as a little freshman, wanting to start a gymnastics program, to it becoming a reality, is really awesome.”
Ryan couldn’t help but reflect on the start of it all.
“My freshman year, we were like, ‘oh, it’s just a little gymnastics team.’ We really weren’t sure what we were getting ourselves into. To come out first, it really set the bar high. Hahnville is known for gymnastics now. It’s crazy. It’s just an awesome feeling,” said Ryan.
That high bar was set by Ryan and Hahnville coach Courtney Grabert.
“As an alumnus of Hahnville High School, we didn’t have a gymnastics team,” Grabert recalled. “I originally started teaching at J.B. Martin (Middle School), which is where I met Kamryn. I taught her in the seventh grade and taught her in eighth grade and we had discussed potentially starting a gymnastics team to allow her to compete and be involved at the school level.
“I was given the opportunity to leave J.B. Martin and move up to Hahnville High School with her. So, we went to Hahnville together and started a gymnastics team.”
It’s been an endeavor the two have traveled together.
“I am not a gymnast. I never was a gymnast. She has definitely taught me everything I know. It was a blessed journey for the both of us,” said Grabert.
Ryan was a standout from the start.
Her first year as a freshman, she took first place in floors, bars, vault and all-around gold. She had four more first-place wins over the next two years. As a sophomore, she set a state record with a near-perfect 9.9 on her floor routine.
Later came the recruiting process.
“Just like in football, you send out tapes from your gymnastics competition. You post to You Tube and you send it out to the college coaches,” explained Ryan.
The tapes caught the attention of Alabama coach Dana Duckworth.
“When I went on an unofficial visit, I didn’t expect too much at the University of Alabama,” Ryan said. “The coach said my personality just kind of stood out to her. That really spoke volumes about her and her character and what she really wanted to see in her gymnasts – not just someone who was good in the gym but was a good person overall. I guess she felt I could do that for them.
“One of the assistant coaches came down and watched practice. After they came, they offered me a spot on their team.”
By accepting the spot, there is something Ryan said her parents will have to adjust to.
“It will be hard for my parents to say, ‘Roll Tide,’ because we are from Louisiana and I’m a little Cajun,” Ryan laughed. “The (Alabama) coaches said I add a little Cajun spice to the mix. The coaches are really awesome over there. They really care about their athletes and that’s just something that really stood out to me.”
Ryan’s character, said Grabert, is a major reason the Hahnville program have been able to thrive so quickly.
“It was nice for her to pave the way and prove that she is strong enough mentally and physically to do it,” Grabert said of Ryan.
Ryan also is known for other attributes as well, according to Grabert.
“It’s awesome that she is being recognized for her athletic ability. She’s always recognized for her academic ability. She’s a fantastic human being. She’s also our ‘Student of the Year.’”