Karla Dixon is the captain of the Ottawa Hills gymnastics team.
That wasn't a difficult honor for the senior to earn, though. After all, she is the team's only member.
"When my mom sits in the stands for meets, she says she hears the craziest stuff," Dixon said. "People will make up stuff like, 'Did you hear that all of the Ottawa Hills gymnasts are sick, and only one girl is here?'
"There's always some reason why my team isn't there."
But when the Green Bears' gymnast is performing, people take notice.
At last year's state meet Dixon placed second in the vault with a 9.275 score. That made Dixon this area's first state place-winner since Findlay's Elizabeth Otto tied for fourth in the floor exercise in 2003.
This weekend she again will represent Ottawa Hills at the state meet at Hilliard Bradley High School, looking to become the first local state champ since Northview's Lindsay Puhl won the uneven parallel bars in 2001.
That's not bad for an athlete who spent two years away from the sport.
Dixon entered gymnastics at an early age and began competing in sanctioned events in first grade. But she left the sport when she entered high school.
"While I was competing in gymnastics in junior high, I also was competing in a ton of other sports," Dixon explained. "I didn't realize high school sports would take up so much time.
"My freshman year, I had to choose. So I played field hockey and soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and both track and softball in the spring."
After two years of that full schedule, she realized something was missing.
"I realized that I missed gymnastics," Dixon said. "It's an individual sport, but you spend a lot of time with a lot of the same people, so you become a family.
"All the girls I competed with in gymnastics, I wasn't with them when I was in other sports. And I missed them."
So she contacted Ottawa Hills athletic director Tim Erickson, who approved of the move. Then she contacted Mike McKee, her coach at Sunrise who also is the coach at Southview, to ask him to be her coach.
Dixon admits she was apprehensive as she returned to the sport following her two-year hiatus.
"I wondered, 'Can I still do anything? Will I be terrible?'" she said. "But I also was excited. And in that first practice, things came back much more quickly than I thought they would. I felt I was only a couple of skills behind where I was when I quit."
McKee said he saw the same thing.
"I've known Karla most of her career as a gymnast," he said. "When she came back, she was stronger - in some ways, she was even better when she came back.
"She was learning some skills that she didn't quite acquire before she left, but when she came back she had had a little bit of a mental break, and she was able to focus on the skills.
"She relearned a lot of skills, and learned some new skills."
Dixon's second-place effort at last year's state meet has led to raised expectations for this year.
"I think [her second-place finish] gave her a little taste of what she could do," McKee said. "She came back a little hungry, more determined. She's added some new skills to her routines, and she has worked very hard.
"She's an awesome worker who is easy to coach. She's also a good listener who works hard to apply what you tell her."
Dixon found success at this year's district meet, tying Perrysburg's Chelsea Williams for the all-around title with a 35.875 score. Dixon also won the vault (9.325), while placing fourth on the uneven parallel bars (8.60) and the floor exercise (9.10). She will compete at state in all of those events.
"I was expecting to come back at the spot I was before, because that's what I did last year," Dixon said after taking another nine-month break between seasons. "Instead I had to come back and fix some things.
"My goal was just to hit everything, because I knew if I did that I could score well."
And while Dixon is officially considered the "team" at Ottawa Hills, she has unofficially become a part of the Southview team McKee has coached for the past 17 seasons.
"I practice with Southview, I travel with Southview and I compete with Southview," Dixon said. "I know my scores don't count for Southview, but in a weird way I feel as if I'm part of their team.
"Even though we're not on the same team, I cheer for them and they cheer for me."
McKee agreed, adding, "She's been accepted as a part of the Southview team. Our team has adopted her. In a fun way, she's a part of the team."
Dixon is only one of the local gymnasts who will compete at the state meet.
The team competition will begin at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow and will include teams from Napoleon and Perrysburg. The Wildcats, who won the district title with a score of 135.475, will feature seniors Kendall Homan and Taylor Dunbar as well as sophomores Riley Dunbar, Jayci Steingass and Bethany Wolf, along with freshman Kendall Anderson.
Perrysburg, which placed second with a 132.325, features seniors Jessica Brown and Samantha Parton, junior Hannah Wheeless, sophomores Chelsea Williams and Abbey Dunckel, and freshman Rebecca Garber.
The individual portion of the state meet begins at noon Saturday and features competition in all four individual events as well as the all-around.
Among those competing for the all-around title will be Dixon, Perrysburg's Williams, and Homan from Napoleon as well as Archbold's Kinsey Smith and Clay's Kylee Ault.
Dixon, Williams, Homan, Smith, and Megan Mastrisciano of Northview will vie for the title in the vault, while Smith, Anderson, Dixon, Williams, and Paige Fricke of Pettisville will compete for the crown in the uneven parallel bars.
Riley Dunbar, Williams, Kyra Schell of Notre Dame and Alexa Settlemire of Findlay will challenge on the balance beam, while the list of competitors in the floor exercise includes Williams, Smith, Homan and Dixon.
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