Mt. Pleasant, SC – Oceanside Collegiate Academy senior Evan Jones will travel to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the second weekend of May to compete in the USA Gymnastics Development Program National Championship.
It will be a pinnacle moment for Jones, who has earned seven individual state titles in his 10 or so years as a competitive gymnast. Surprisingly for such and accomplished athlete, he never set out to be a competitor on this level.
“My mom worked as an office manager at a rec gym, and I just hung around and watched from the time I was six to about eight,” Jones said. “I was tired of sitting around doing nothing, so I had my mom enroll me in a class. I started doing a rec program class and then I moved into gymnastics when I was nine or 10.
“I started working on doing handsprings and back tucks, just to get my basic skills so I could try out for a team. I eventually made the team and started out at level five.”
After attending several other localgyms, Jones hooked up with coach Tony Ivy with the Charleston Twisters and progressed rapidly through the ranks after starting at level five. Those early levels of competitive gymnastics include all compulsory routines, which means every gymnast performs the exact same routine in every event.
“Everyone does exactly the same thing, and you are judged on who does it prettier and makes it look cooler,” Jones said. “I started out in level five and then moved to six before skipping seven to level eight. My coach told me the level seven routine was the same as at level eight, so we just skipped ahead to level eight to that I could get comfortable competing at the higher level.”
Jones said he understood with the quick advancement through the ranks that he might not win very much, so he focused on building his skills and learning how to compete. He was a quick learner. He has earned three consecutive state titles in the high bar and a won twice in the vault. He also added titles in rings and, this year, earned the All-Around title.
Throughout his development as a gymnast, he flirted with playing other sports. He tried tennis but didn’t like being out in the heat. He tried swimming, which is the sport his twin sister Emilie excels in but could never get the hang of the breathing techniques needed to be successful. He has been a member of the boys’ club volleyball team at Oceanside and he even investigated playing rugby. He was talked out of giving that sport a try by his dad, who made sure he understood how the broken bones and broken teeth would impact his ability to compete in gymnastics.
“My mom would never let me play football because of all the concussions,” Jones said. “I want to be a doctor someday, so I don’t need to have a bunch of concussions slowing me down. I really fell in love with gymnastics when I realized that, even though it is a team sport, it is very much an individual sport. There is a lot of pressure when you are performing for a team. Everything you do is scary, but you have to have enough trust in yourself that you can do it.”
Now he gets to showcase his individual skills on the largest stage for athletes in the USAG Development Program. He has been focused on preparing for this opportunity full time for weeks now, even though his teammates have moved into more of a summer routine.
“My practice schedule is Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” Jones said. “On weekdays, I practice for about four hours and then, on the weekend, it is three.
“All my teammates are into their summer schedules, which means they are focused more on strength and working on specific skills and not routines. With my teammates doing that, it is a little distracting because I am still focused on honing my routines. The rest of the team doesn’t have any pressure on them, so they spend more time goofing off. That is a distraction because it is not long before I go to compete.”
Jones said his preparation for the USAG National Championship has been focused on honing his specific skills for the six events. Now, with less than two weeks before he goes, he is all in on doing his routines.
“During the week leading up to the trip I’ll probably run through each of my six routines three times each day, just to make sure everything is where it needs to be,” Jones said. “You want it to become muscle memory by the time you go to compete. You don’t want to have any mistakes on a routine just because you forgot something. My coach wants to make sure that doesn’t happen by having those routines come as easy as breathing.”
The six events he will compete in are the high bars, parallel bars, vault, rings, pommel horse and the floor exercise. The six events are totaled to determine the overall standings.
Like most athletes, there are always some aspects of a sport that you enjoy, and others that you don’t look forward to. Such is the case for Jones in gymnastics.
“I am pretty much a nervous wreck when it comes to high bars,” Jones said, belying the fact that he has won three state titles in the event. “I just try to stay as clean as I can through my routine. I stay with what I know I can do. High bar is the scariest for me because you must remain focused.
“Vault you just go for it. Ring is more about brute strength, and it is a very effort-based event. It takes a lot of work to get your skills on the rings. Pommel horse is very technical, and it hurts. The pommel is made with wood with a little padding, but the handles are steel, and they hurt when you hit them. I have had times where I have been bleeding when I get done if I hit the handles. Parallel bars and the pommel are the events I have the hardest time with. Floor is about how much power you have.
“Different body types are better at different events, which is why you see small people do really well on the floor because they can launch themselves really high. The thing you have to really focus on is balancing strength and flexibility. Both are very important, but you can build up too much strength, which will limit your flexibility. The amount of bulk you have changes the way you do everything else.”
While there is a lot of work in preparation for the trip to Oklahoma City, once he arrives there, he will have to play the waiting game.
“Once we get to Oklahoma City it will be more about waiting,” Jones said. “When you get your rotation schedule you’ll go through, warm up for 10 or 15 minutes, then everyone lines up and goes through. The scariest part to me is standing on deck, waiting to go next. You compete in all six events, and you get one shot at each. If you fall, it is just too bad.”
As a high school senior who will soon graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate degree in science, Jones has his sights set past gymnastics, although he plans to continue with in his sport after he arrives at Clemson in the fall through the Gymnastics Association of College Teams (GymACT).
“For me, gymnastics is a great way to stay fit, and I really enjoy it, but my focus is on school,” Jones said. “I want to be an anesthesiologist, and I think gymnastics has helped me with focus. I’ll probably continue with gymnastics in college, just to help me keep my focus.
“Georgia has asked me to join their GymACT team, Georgia United. So, I will continue to practice somewhere near Clemson and then, once a month, I’ll go meet up with my team for team building and practice with them.”
There are only 15 NCAA men’s gymnastics programs in the country, and three of those are at the U.S. Military Academies. For Jones to compete at that level, he would have to leave South Carolina, something he didn’t want to do for academic and financial reasons.
“At Clemson, I have scholarships that are tacked on so, when all is said and done, I will make money going to college. That wouldn’t be possible anywhere else. Clemson is a great school as well.”
Jones will also receive a Minuteman Scholarship as part of the Army ROTC Reserves when he enrolls in the biochemistry/premed program at Clemson this fall. He has been a member of the National Honor Society since he was a sophomore, and he is a four-time USAG Academic All-American. He is also a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society at Trident Technical College.
Once he arrives at Clemson, in addition to a challenging academic program and a continued focus on gymnastics, Jones is considering trying out for the cheer squad.
“Everyone has told me how much fun it is and with my gymnastics experience I already have all the skills I need for it,” Jones said of becoming a cheerleader. “It would be a little out of my comfort zone. I am not especially introverted, but I am also not one who wants to go out in front of thousands of people. I wouldn’t dread it, but I would be nervous. It would take some getting used to.”
Jones will have company at Clemson with his sister also enrolling there. Even though they are twins, Jones said they are complete opposites.
“She is really interested in being an athletic trainer,” Evan said. “She goes to every game for every sport and loves being around all that. We are pretty different, as close to opposites as can be. She is very outgoing and wants to go to law school. I like to have a plan before I do anything, so I don’t waste any time. My sister is more a figure it out as she goes kind of person.
“If we go on a trip together, I want to have everything mapped out for each day. She and her friends just play everything by ear and wind up going to the same places over and over. It drives me crazy.”
One thing his experiences in gymnastics and his time at Oceanside Collegiate Academy have taught him is to have confidence in his abilities.
“I am at the point now where I have done it (gymnastics) for so long that I just do it without really having to think about it,” Jones said. “At the same time, I have been taking college classes all along at Oceanside, so not much will be changing for me. It may be way bigger classes, but I have already proven to myself that I can do the work in college.”
About Oceanside Collegiate Academy: Oceanside Collegiate Academy (OCA), located in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., serves high school students in a safe, small and family-centered setting. Our students seek the opportunity and challenge of rigorous curriculum, high academic standards and elite athletics while earning up to two years of college credit. OCA serves students in grades 9-12 using an honors curriculum in 9th and 10 grades with a dual enrollment curriculum in 11th and 12th grades