Setting the Tone
Brittany Harris has developed into one of the team’s vocal leaders as a sophomore
Published: Monday, March 12, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 21:07
If you have attended an Oregon State gymnastics meet, you know what happens when the team heads to the final event of the night — the floor routines.
Every gymnast for the Beavers gathers on the floor mat, center stage in Gill Coliseum. The band begins to play the OSU fight song. A chorus of "OOOOOOOO-SSSSSSSS-UUUUUUUU — Oregon State, fight fight fight!" echoes throughout the arena from both the 3,000-plus fans in attendance and the gymnastics team.
It's a staple of a home meet for the Beavers to get everyone in the stands fired up for the final show of the night.
Then the electric scene comes to a halt. Brittany Harris, the 5-foot-7 sophomore out of Tulsa, Okla., takes the spotlight for the cherry on top of the rousing spectacle.
"O WHAT?!" Harris bellows to the crowd.
"O STATE!" the crowd responds.
This continues two more times, culminating in the beginning of the end of the night's meet.
Harris's role as the crowd-starter and motivator is important during these meets and with the rest of the team. The development of her as the vocal leader of the gymnastics team has blossomed this year, and will ultimately continue throughout her career as a Beaver.
"I really do love the role of cheering the ‘O what? O State!' because Jen Kesler did it last year and every time she did it at a meet, I was so excited," Harris said. "I got pumped up too. Even if I didn't compete [on] floor, I was just pumped up to watch everyone else go."
Kesler had the role before, and now it's Harris's. She has cherished the responsibility ever since she first did it in the Jan. 13 home meet against then-No. 3 Oklahoma — a meet in which the Beavers upset the Sooners.
"The first time I did it, I'm pretty sure that was the most nervous I've ever been," Harris said. "What if I'm not loud enough? What if my voice cracks? I was thinking about everything that could go wrong. And then Jen Kesler stood beside me for support, and I was like ‘OK, I can do this. O what?!' They did it back! It was so much fun."
Teammates and coaches both recognize the strength Harris brings to the squad as an outspoken person who can provide support to the rest of the team through her personality and ability to lead.
"Brittany is a huge part of getting the team fired up," said junior Kelsi Blalock. "I think it starts downstairs in the locker room before we get up. She's always the loudest and voicing her opinion and it really does get everyone fired up."
Senior Olivia Vivian agrees: "Brittany just has this energy — this just fired up, dominant kind of, ‘let's get them, let's beat them' fire from within. When you have someone that comes along and treats the team in that aspect, it gets you all fired up."
That kind of leadership from a sophomore is unique, and Harris will undoubtedly only increase that presence for the next two years. Vivian has provided plenty of senior leadership from the vocal side of things, and Leslie Mak, last year's Pac-10 Gymnast of the Year, and junior Makayla Stambaugh play more of the lead-by-example role for the team.
But that quality of being able to have someone who can always be counted on to get the team ready to compete, and to get them excited in doing so, is something that Harris truly brings to the table for OSU.
"It would be strange to not have someone like Brittany Harris, who just has that ability to pump the whole team up," Vivian said.
Even when the team is away from home, that kind of mentality can be even more important. The passionate fans of Gill fill in the stands at one of the higher clips compared to most other college gymnastics arenas. It's not the same in other places.
"It's a really important type of leadership role," said assistant coach John Carney. "Because everybody around here gets to see it at Gill, but it's even more impactful when we're at arenas that have less of a crowd. Like when we were at UC Davis, and there's 530 people in the arena, she kind of brings that rally of energy to the team and keeps that rolling."
Although the vocal direction she can give off to the rest of the team is extremely important, her performances as a gymnast are just as vital. As one of four regular all-arounders on the team, Harris is relied upon to put together strong showings in four different events in a given meet.
"She's very critical as we don't have a large, large squad," Carney said. "With her being able to contribute the talent that she was recruited for on all four events – that's a huge testament to her work."
Harris has the ability to balance being both a strong competitor and also a team member who spreads her own confidence to the rest of the gymnasts. It's that kind of passion that makes her more one-of-a-kind.
"I just want to pour my heart to everyone on the team and try to fire them up in ways that are a good example," Harris said.
So the next time there's a gymnastics meet, just know that there's nothing fake behind the pump-up-the-crowd display that gets put on. It's all real, and it means a lot to both Harris and the team for it to happen.
"O WHAT?!" – "O STATE!" – will be a signature for Oregon State gymnastics for years to come, and the legacy will continue with the passion Harris brings for all eyes to see.
Warner Strausbaugh, sports writer