Down to a science

Published 1:28 pm Monday, March 1, 2010

Mark Raymond knows a thing or two about balance.

The teacher, coach, adviser, husband and father of three has got it down to a science.

Raymond, who just coached the Austin High School girls’ gymnastics squad through its first-ever team state meet — held this weekend —is a busy man.

Five days a week, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Raymond can be found in his classroom at Austin High teaching chemistry or physics. Much of the year, everyday by 3:30 p.m., he’s at the YMCA coaching the gymnastics team. Raymond is in the gym until 6 or 7 p.m., after which, several days a week he heads back to school to advise the robotics team, sometimes until 9 p.m.

Then the weekend comes and Raymond spends his Saturdays tutoring at the Coffee House on Main, coaching gymnastics meets, overseeing the robotics team or spending time with his family.

“Yeah, I’m busy. But, it’s absolutely wonderful,” Raymond said.

It helps, he explained, that he loves what he does.

Coaching gymnastics

Raymond found his way to gymnastics somewhat by chance — and has since coached several individuals and now a team through the state meet.

He was never a gymnast himself, but rather a wrestler. Raymond wound up helping the gymnastics team out as a spotter during college at Winona State University. Eventually he worked his way up to coaching at Winona State, Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School in Wisconsin and ultimately AHS.

Though Raymond did not study coaching in college –– opting for degrees in physics, chemistry and a master’s in education — he had other skills that paved the way.

“My degree in physics is ultimately what qualifies me for coaching gymnastics, as well as my belief that someone always has something to teach me — I have learned a lot by being surrounded by great coaches,” he said.

For example, coaching wrestling with AHS coach Bill Kinney in the 90s taught Raymond how to manage and run a team, he said.

For technical coaching, Raymond’s philosophy includes explaining the science behind gymnastics, such as why tucking your chin works, so that the gymnasts can self-correct, he explained.

“He uses science — physics really — a lot in coaching,” said Amy Hajek, current AHS assistant gymnastics coach who won the Minnesota State Meet in floor in 2002 as an AHS gymnast then coached by Raymond.

“When gymnasts, or any athletes, are intrinsically motivated about what they are doing and understand the dynamics behind the skill, then they can really succeed,” Raymond said of his method.

He also credits his assistant coaches Hajek, Barb Taylor and Bethany Larson for the team’s success, as well as some of his mentors in the field.

“Without them, boy I’d be lost,” he said.

Mentors have included former AHS head gymnastics coach Rhonda Alberts. And in the off-season, Raymond spends time traveling to Winona and Pine Island, Minn. to work with gym owners and coaches Rob Murray and Kathy Nelson.

“He is always trying to learn more and make the program better,” Hajek said.

Teaching and robotics

Back in the classroom, it is Raymond that mentors students as well as a FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics team.

The robotics team, a group that actually designs, implements and builds robots, is in its second year. It is funded in large part by the Hormel Foundation and advised by Raymond.

“It’s different than gymnastics in that it is a student-led, student-driven activity,” Raymond explained. “I am here mostly to supervise.”

The program helps Raymond share his interest in engineering with his students.

“It’s just been a blast,” he said.

Raymond was at one time a composite engineering major, before a professor told him he needed to go into education. After spending time as both a teaching assistant and a lab assistant at an engineering firm, Raymond decided to go into teaching.

“I haven’t regretted it,” he said. “I’m absolutely blessed with students that want to be in my class. They’re just as excited about science as I am,” Raymond said, noting he teaches elective courses.

Balancing act

“How many hours do I work in a week… That’s tough to figure out,” Raymond said. “But I am lucky to have an amazing wife that understands that especially from November to February I get very busy.”

Raymond is also able to mix work and family from time to time, such as on Saturday mornings when he heads out for coffee — often with daughters, Paige, 11, Morgan, 8, and Claire, 5.

The four are posted at the coffee house so students can stop in for homework help, but on days when nobody stops in, it’s just Raymond’s quality time with his girls.

His daughters also have shared interests with their dad, as all three have elected to take gymnastics at the YMCA.

“I try to stay out of their coaching. I want them to choose activities they like, not sports I like,” Raymond said.

The girls have also all taken to science and math, which Raymond says could be because they have grown up with conversation of both subjects.

When he is not busy with work or family, Raymond tries to make time for a few games of ultimate Frisbee — though he does opt to spend much of his free time working on gymnastics or robotics related activities.

“I really do think that coaching athletics and teaching science has been a blessing for me,” He said. “I just try to challenge each individual gymnast and student to be better than what they were before. I wouldn’t trade it.”