June 20, 2019
June 20, 2019—Before recent CFISD graduates Jack Freeman, Lazarus Barnhill and J.R. Chou go their separate ways and continue their athletic careers in gymnastics at the collegiate level, they helped continue a dynasty that has become heavily influence by the Cypress area.
Among the many accolades the trio achieved as seniors was helping lead USA Gymnastics’ Region 3 to a victory in March in the Elite Team Cup, which pits the nation’s best junior elite gymnasts. It marked the fourth consecutive win for Region 3. Barnhill and Chou were both members of the winning team in 2018.
The format features nine men’s regional teams, with six gymnasts on each. Region 3 represents Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, and leans toward Texas and CFISD.
“I don’t know about other regions, but it would be incredibly hard to be as close as we are,” Chou said after the win in North Carolina. “I think that team bond really helps us at meets when things are getting tough.”
Barnhill and Freeman both signed with the University of Oklahoma, while Chou signed with Stanford University. The two decorated programs finished first and second at the 2019 NCAA Men’s Gymnastics National Championships. Stanford edged Oklahoma, winning its sixth title in history and ending its rival’s four-year run as champions.
Barnhill and Chou recently graduated from Cypress Creek High School. Freeman is a Cypress Woods High School graduate, while Garret Braunton is a rising senior. Two reserves from Region 3 were also CFISD products – Zach Nunez and Daniel Simmons are rising seniors at Cypress Woods and Bridgeland high schools, respectively.
In 2018, Barnhill and Chou were joined on the team by Evan Davis, a Jersey Village High School graduate who just completed his freshman year at the University of Iowa.
All six members of the 2019 team are also teammates for Cypress Academy of Gymnastics, which has two of its locations within CFISD.
“We take pride in so many being not only from Texas but CFISD,” Barnhill said. “When you’re closer together, it just makes you that much closer and more like family. I’ve known most since I was 7 or 8 years old.”
Many continued that success into the spring. Barnhill and Freeman led Cypress Academy to a win at the Texas State Championships in March, with Freeman edging his teammate for the all-around title.
In April, Braunton, Barnhill, Freeman, Nunez and Simmons claimed the top five spots in their division (Level 10 Junior Olympic and Junior Elite) at the Region 3 Optional Championships.
Barnhill captured a national title a month later, placing first at the U.S. Men’s Junior Olympic National Championships in Nevada. Freeman finished two spots behind in Junior Elite Level 10 and the duo led Region 3 to a first-place finish as well.
Despite the success, Barnhill said better competition across the country is helping the sport and keeping all athletes focused on improving.
“We had a lot to look forward to but this year was especially hard because the competition is getting better all the time,” he said. “The gap gets closer and closer, but it pushes everyone in my region to get better as well.”