The Georgia GymDogs are savages too.
Two weeks ago against LSU, senior Vivi Babalis completed her floor routine and received a resounding applause. Babalis, who scored a 9.900, began celebrating with her teammates when volunteer assistant Suzanne Yoculan Leebern turned to the student section.
Noticing a student from the Spike Squad wearing the spiked shoulder pads typically seen at football games, Yoculan Leebern asked to borrow them. She then handed them over to Babalis and instructed her to put them on for scoring a 9.9 or better.
It was a spur of the moment thing that the GymDogs embraced in real time.
“I guess she was really happy with that. Just the atmosphere was hot,” Babalis said. “And that crew was right there so she was like, ‘Go put these shoulder pads on.’ So she gave them to me. And then she said, ‘Everyone who scores 9.9 puts these on.’ That made everyone more hype.”
In that moment, a new football tradition was passed on to gymnastics.
Sophomore Rachel Dickson (9.950) and Sabrina Vega (9.950) followed suit after landed scores of 9.9 or better on floor. As a result, both Dickson and Vega put on the spiked shoulder pads as well.
The GymDogs are the latest team in collegiate athletics to use a prop as a celebration tool. The Georgia football team’s defense put on a pair of what it called “savage” shoulder pads after forcing a turnover this past season. Similarly, the Miami football team handed out a turnover chain.
This trend made its way to gymnastics, with LSU using a “stick crown” as a prop. When an LSU gymnast sticks a landing, she puts a jewel-encrusted gold crown on her head.
Before the three GymDogs put on the Spike Squad’s shoulder pads against LSU, the gymnasts were thinking of coming up with their own prop but hadn’t decided on one yet. For the time being, the shoulder pads serve as a way of continuing what the football team did during its 2017 season while drawing more excitement from the crowd.
There is also a competitive element at play as the GymDogs want a turn at putting on the pads
“It does give you a little motivation to do really well for your team,” Vega said. “It’s just added fun.”
Head coach Courtney Kupets Carter said that if the Spike Squad is back with the pads for Saturday’s home meet against Boise State then the gymnasts will have an opportunity to wear the pads after hitting some 9.9s on floor. But Kupets Carter noted it doesn't appear the shoulder pads will be a permanent gimmick.
Vega said she hopes to have a prop of some sort incorporated for not only the floor exercise, but for the other three events too. And while she loved putting the shoulder pads on against LSU, Vega said she doesn’t want to copy the football team for the long haul.
“The shoulder pads are still really cool but I like different,” Vega said. “I’d want us to start our own trend.”