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Tom Mix, Published February 19 2013

Gymnastics fixture Merritt to end long career at state

Fargo - Fargo’s Mike Merritt has seen a lot in his 40 years of coaching gymnastics.

Most of that time was spent coaching and teaching in North Dakota. More often than not, he juggled coaching with teaching physical education and running local youth gymnastics clubs.

This weekend, Merritt will coach his final gymnastics meet when he brings his Fargo and Fargo Davies squads to the state meet on Friday and Saturday in Valley City.

The longtime gymnastics coach and educator is retiring from both professions at the end of the school year, but will remain the head girls track and field coach at Fargo South.

Merritt, 62, said he has not dwelled much on it being his final meet, but admitted those thoughts will be with him this weekend.

“It will probably set in on Saturday sometime,” said Merritt, who teaches at Kennedy Elementary in Fargo. “When that last kid gets that last award and they announce the senior athlete and coach of the year, it will hit home that this is the end.”

Merritt’s coaching career began in the fall of 1972 at Fargo South. In 1973, he departed for Dickinson, and from 1974 to 1976 Merritt served as an assistant coach at Southern Illinois in Carbondale, Ill.

From there, Merritt made stops in Edina, Burnsville, Hopkins, Bismarck and Devils Lake before settling back in Fargo in 1985 when he began coaching at Fargo North.

In 1998, he began coaching both North and South and in 2011 he started coaching Fargo Davies while also serving as head coach of the co-op team made up of North and South gymnasts.

“It has been fun,” Merritt said. “I have had the great privilege to coach many wonderful athletes over the years and also work with some great coaches.”

While coaching in Dickinson, Merritt coached a then-seventh grade gymnast by the name of Robin Huebner, who from 1979 to 1983 became a three-time All-American at the University of Minnesota.

“He was a positive coach and fun to be around,” said Huebner, who works for The Forum and WDAY. “I just can’t believe he has been coaching that long. I always think of him as Mr. Merritt. He has had a lot of successful athletes over the years.”

Kathy Klug, who is the executive director at American Gold Gymnastics, was a freshman on Merritt’s 1972 Fargo South squad that won the state championship. Klug said the current state of high school gymnastics in North Dakota is in large part due to Merritt’s driving force as a coach.

“Mike is one of those guys that has a passion for the sport of gymnastics,” Klug said. “He is well-liked in the state and very well-respected by judges and coaches. We are going to miss him.

“He is a big reason that gymnastics has been in the forefront in the state. It is going to be a big loss.”

Fargo enters the state meet No. 4 in the state rankings and Fargo Davies is in eighth.

Merritt has coached many individual state champions over the years, but said there is more to coaching than state titles.

“My big thing is that the kids want to come back every year,” Merritt said. “And be a part of the team their entire career.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562