Five Lake Highlands High School students made history last month, becoming the first LHHS boys’ gymnastics team to win a state championship.

“It was a big thrill for everybody – nobody could ever forget the feeling,” says team member Justin Conner.

“There was such good chemistry on the team.”

Lake Highlands won the event with a total of 336.75 points. The closest contender, Odessa Permian High School, finished second with 333.35 points.

But the recent three-day event came down to the wire, Conner says.

Lake Highlands team members found out they were one and a half points up after the first day, but they took the lead with a grain of salt since earlier in the year, LHHS caught up with Trinity High School after trailing by one and a half points in the regionals.

“We weren’t really worrying about it,” Conner says. “We just kept thinking: We’ll do good if we just have fun.”

Going into the state tournament’s final event, LHHS team members knew they were six-tenths of a point ahead. But after watching each other compete in the event, the team members knew they would win, Conner says.

“It was really exciting,” says coach Denise Coats. “They’re the greatest group of guys I’ve ever had.”

Coats, who has coached at the high school since 1975, says the team was riddled by injuries throughout the entire season, but team members didn’t let the misfortune get the best of them.

“They pulled together so much as a team – it was an entire team effort,” says Coats, a health teacher at LHHS.

Team members placing first in an event were Jake Moran on the pommel horse, Conner on the parallel bars, and Kristof VerFaillie on the high bar.

VerFaillie, an exchange student from Belgium, says the experience was especially satisfying.

“To be honest, I’ve never competed on a team before,” VerFaillie says.

Gymnasts don’t compete on teams in his hometown of Hofstade, Belgium, he says.

“It gave me a lot more energy,” VerFaillie says. “I didn’t want to goof it up and ruin it for anybody else.”

Team members include seniors Bill Sivley, Jeremy Kramb and Moran, and juniors VerFaillie and Conner.

Conner will be the only returning team member next fall, Coats says, as VerFaillie returns to Belgium.