Wylie 3rd-graders Jovie Holden and Leila Haleck do everything together – including win at gymnastics.
Now the best friends are going to the biggest gymnastics meet of their lives – together.
“I was shocked,” Jovie said. “I couldn’t believe that at my age I was going to one of these huge meets. For me to be doing that, I was amazed.”
Xcel is a competitive program of USA Gymnastics that has five different levels – Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond. Students qualify for a level based on ability, not their age. Jovie and Leila were good enough to qualify for the Gold Team at Gymnastics Sports Center. At 9-years-old, they are the youngest on their team.
Students can participate in the state meet at any level but only Gold or above advance to the regional meet. This was the first time they were eligible to advance. Both made it on their first try.
The girls are coached by Wylie graduate Justin Powers, who has coached at Gymnastics Sports Center for 14 years. He said they are among the youngest to qualify for regionals.
“They have the most energy of anyone I’ve coached in a long time,” he said. “They are good at using that at every practice.”
He said he can ask them to work on a problem 20 times, and they are still giving 100 percent effort.
“That’s the coolest thing about them,” he said. “What I love more than their age, is that they are very competitive. They are very young, but they have been able to keep up and be successful at every competition they have gone to.”
The girls love Coach Justin. Jovie called him kind, and Leila said he was funny.
“What I like about Coach Justin is that whenever we do something wrong, he’s not a coach that yells at us,” Jovie said. “He’s really calm about it. He shows us what we need to fix and then we get better.”
The girls have a lot of similarities. They both come from military families that wound up in Abilene. They both have been state champions in gymnastics. They both started gymnastics at a very young age – Jovie at 3 and Leila at 13 months.
Leila’s mom Michelle said her daughter was very active at a very young age, so she put her in gymnastics.
“She started walking when she was 9 months old,” Michelle said. “She climbed and flipped on everything. They had a Tiny Tyke gym there that could get them familiar with all the events. We would go on Saturdays.”
Jovie wasn’t so lucky. Her older brother started doing gymnastics, and she wanted to do it as well, but she was too young.
“She begged and begged and begged,” said her mom, Dollie. “So I asked, and they finally let her do it.”
Jovie said she has always loved gymnastics.
“It was always my thing,” she said. “I always wanted to be like Simone Biles or even better than her. I kept seeing everyone doing all these flips, and I wanted to do that.”
“We are friends because we were in the same class,” Leila said. “We started talking every day, and then she moved to Xcel, and I moved from Bronze to Gold.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
The two girls bonded over a mutual love for gymnastics and because they were on a team with girls as old as 15 years old.
“We cannot be separated,” Jovie said. “Without each other, we’d feel lonely. We had a play date for three days straight one time.”
The families have traveled together to gymnastics meets all over the state and were planning to travel together to Colorado for the May 12 Regional Meet.
Dollie said their relationship is very special.
“I love seeing that their friendship has grown,” she said. “They are so sweet to each other and supportive of each other. They encourage each other.”
“It’s been great to watch the girls grow together and learn about sportsmanship and encouragement,” she said. “It’s great to see them celebrate each other’s successes.”
By Candy Reagan