Assembly Hall setup floors coaches, athletes

Assembly Hall setup floors coaches, athletes

CHAMPAIGN – When Miles Avery walked into the Assembly Hall on Wednesday afternoon, his jaw dropped to the floor.

"I was blown away," the Ohio State men''s gymnastics coach said. "The place looked awesome."

The nation''s best college gymnastics teams are in Champaign this weekend, and the University of Illinois is pulling out all the stops, transforming the Assembly Hall into a venue worthy of hosting the NCAA Men''s Gymnastics Championships, which start with today''s two qualifying sessions.

"When we first found out we were hosting, we wanted to make this weekend something special," Illinois coach Yoshi Hayasaki said.

To do that, Illinois secured an Olympic-style competition platform that has the coaches buzzing.

"The first thing I thought of was a podium to showcase the athletes," Hayasaki said. "It''s something that''s used in the Olympics and the World Championships. It''s the same setup, and it makes this event special."

This weekend marks the first time a podium, a 3-foot-high platform that separates the performing gymnasts from the people on the floor, will be used in the NCAA Championships.

Oklahoma coach Mark Williams said there are only two podiums in the country. The one being used this weekend was trucked in from New York''s Madison Square Garden, where it was used for the Visa American Cup.

"I talked to the boss (Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther), and he gave me the green light," Hayasaki said.

Getting Guenther''s approval was just the start. The stage was shipped to the former Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul in February and stored there until Monday, when it was transferred to the Assembly Hall and unloaded. On Tuesday, U.S.A. Gymnastics representative Dave Jerger supervised the platform''s construction.

Illinois picked up the $5,500 bill.

"Everybody has worked hard for this," Hayasaki said. "We are very pleased with the way it turned out."

Not many gymnasts get a chance to compete on that type of stage, which should make for an interesting weekend.

"It''s going to be exciting," Williams said.

UI coaches clean up

Illinois assistant coach Jon Valdez was named the NCAA men''s gymnastics National Assistant Coach of the Year at Thursday night''s College Gymnastics Association banquet at the Holiday Inn in Urbana. The College Station, Texas, native joined the Illini staff in 2001.

Hayasaki picked up the Central Region Coach of the Year award. The National Coach of the Year will be named after this weekend''s action.