Walking into the Devaney Center, Chmelka is not focused on championships. Every day when Coach Chuck Chmelka walks into work at the Devaney Center, he is not focused on winning championships.
He looks at the walls, which showcase records and championship trophies, some of which he won in the late 70s and early 80s, but he tries not to focus on that. He is focused on the practice that is soon to begin.
“What we got to do is we’ve got to hit our routines 90% or higher, as clean as we can,” he said. “That’s really the goal.”
One of the 20 student-athletes coached by Chmelka is freshman, Christopher Hiser.
As one of more than 200 Division I gymnastic athletes in the U.S., Hiser won the 2018 Junior Olympic National Championship in rings and finished third in floor routine at the same competition in 2019.
Coming to Nebraska from Longmeadow, Mass., Hiser impressed not only the team but Chmelka with a career-high 14.25-floor routine. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year is a mainstay for the Huskers and has solidified his future spot.
“I could foresee him competing in four events for us next year,” Chmelka said.
Being the best at their sport is always a goal for student-athletes. Some, however, want to be the best athlete and the best teammate. Hiser lives for this mentality.
“Staying in the lineup for at least one event is really tough, which is a testament to the strength that we have, but also just being the best teammate that I can be and supportive to all my other teammates,” Hiser said with a smile.
Culture is one of the most important things in collegiate sports.
“Because you know that that’s been detrimental to teams in the past,” said digital media intern, Izzy Pineda, “being too proud to take athletes from your own state.”
Coach Chmelka is working on building up the Nebraska culture in gymnastics for the younger generation.
“It’s never been bigger,” he said. “There’s really a wide base of boys doing gymnastics across the US. And we just need to get more colleges again.”
In recent years, schools such as the University of Oregon and the University of Minnesota cut the gymnastics programs due to Title XI. Chmelka said an influx of youth getting involved in gymnastics could prompt a return to the NCAA stage for these schools.
For freshmen on Division 1 teams, it can be uncommon for student-athletes to participate right away. However, this is exactly what Hiser has done.
“I see him staying in the floor lineup,” Chmelka said, adding that Hiser is one of the hardest-working athletes he has had the privilege of coaching.
“He is always challenging himself to prepare better. Regardless if it’s a routine, no competition, a test, strength in the morning–we do anything. He always wants to be the best that he could be. And that’s hard to find nowadays.”
Occasionally, Olympics gymnastics can bring joy to people, but rarely is gymnastics a televised sport.
“For three years, nobody cares,” Chmelka said, “and then in the Olympics, it’s like everybody. You’re all in for USA. It’s such a great sport. And it’s so fun to watch. And you’re on the edge of your seat.”