Iron Bowl rivalry takes to the mat

Geralen Stack- Eaton competes in last season’s meet against Auburn. CW | Mitchell Hughes

Whether it’s football or hopscotch, when the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers square off, there is a level of animosity unmatched by any other rivalry in sports.

Gymnastics is no exception.

The Tide will travel to Auburn on Friday for its first meet of the season against its cross-state rival. While Alabama has dominated the series, they still know that this meet means a little bit more than the rest.

“Whether it’s basketball, football, gymnastics, it doesn’t matter. It’s pride,” Alabama head coach Sarah Patterson said. “You may not be the SEC champions, you may not be regional champions, you may not be national champions, but it’s a state championship in gymnastics.”

For gymnasts like senior Ashley Sledge, who grew up in Alabama, they understand how much the rivalry means to the state and are prepared for an intense competition.

“As someone who is from Alabama originally, the Alabama-Auburn rivalry is just so fueled,” Sledge said. “Our fans are just so explosive, and we just cannot wait to get down there.”

While the football side of the rivalry certainly gets the bulk of the attention, the gymnastics side has had its fair share of controversial moments as well.

In the 1970s, the Crimson Tide traveled to Auburn for a meet, and when they entered the gymnasium, the loudspeakers were playing the radio call from the famous “Punt Bama Punt” football game from 1972.

Last year, the two sides met in Tuscaloosa, and an Auburn gymnast took a shot at the Tide football team when she struck the Heisman pose as part of her floor routine. Needless to say, the Alabama fans, as well as gymnasts, were not too pleased with her display.

“I remember that vividly, and I just remember thinking, ‘Gosh, if that had ever been in our floor routine, Sarah [Patterson] would not let us do it at Auburn,’” Sledge said. “So, kudos to her for doing it, to be brave enough to do it, but our fans did not like it, and I do not think she’ll be doing that again.”

As for this weekend, Sledge said not to expect anything too drastic from the Crimson Tide.

“I think the most we’ll come to doing that is maybe wearing football jerseys when we warm up, but that’s about it,” Sledge said.

Sledge, along with sophomore Lindsey Fowler, senior Rachel Terry and freshman Lora Leigh Frost, who are all originally from the state of Alabama, will serve as captains for the meet. 

            Fans like to brag about winning streaks in a rivalry series, and Tide gymnastics fans certainly have a lot to be proud of: 103 straight victories against Auburn.

Patterson tries to downplay the streak, saying that the team should focus on what they have to do to win, rather than winning by itself.

“You just can’t focus on keeping the streak alive, because if you do that, it won’t ever stay there,” Patterson said. “You’ve got to focus on doing – each athlete, one through six, on each event – doing the best they can do, and seven, eight and nine pushing one through six.”

But it still adds pressure to the gymnasts, who want to be remembered for keeping the streak alive, rather than losing it.

“I love the streak. You never want to be the class that loses the streak,” Sledge said. “But we put that in the back of our minds, because if we do our job, everything will fall the way we want it. We just want to have a great week of practice and go compete against Auburn in their home.”