The University of North Carolina has had many Charlotte athletes star for its teams, including former basketball player and Providence High alum Antawn Jamison or current football quarterback Marquise Williams from Mallard Creek.
Another Providence High School graduate recently won an honor as a Tar Heel, but in a sport that usually doesn’t get the same attention as football or basketball.
Senior Haley Watts has been standout gymnast for the Tar Heels and recently was named the East Atlantic Gymnastics League Senior Gymnast of the Year.
UNC competes in the EAGL because the Atlantic Coast Conference doesn’t have gymnastics.
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Watts is a 2011 graduate of Providence High but didn’t compete for the Panthers because the N.C. High School Athletic Association doesn’t sanction gymnastics.
Watts began gymnastics at age 3 and moved to Charlotte from High Point just before high school. She trained at Southeastern Gymnastics, named 2014 National Club of the Year by USA Gymnastics.
“I tried other sports, did softball, was a cheerleader,” Watts said, “but for me I just loved Gymnastics and it was all I wanted to do.”
Once she arrived in Chapel Hill, Watts was a strong gymnast for the Tar Heels.
In her first two seasons she had some good showings, but in her junior season, Watts was a first-team EAGL honoree in the all-around and uneven bars and second-team in vault and floor exercise. Throughout that season she posted career-best scores in all four apparatus – floor exercise, vault, balance beam and uneven bars – as well as in the all-around competition.
Her performance earned a spot in the NCAA regionals in Athens, Ga.
In her senior season, Watts again competed well, including three second-place finishes in the all-around at quad meets at Towson (Md.) University and N.C. State, and a dual meet against No. 8 Georgia.
At a meet in Pittsburgh near the end of the regular season, however, Watts landed awkwardly on a balance-beam dismount and tore her anterior cruciate ligament, ending her season.
While the injury may have ended her career, it didn’t diminish her spirit or love of the sport.
“At first I was really upset, but it really gave me a different perspective on things,” she said. “One of the best things about being (at UNC) is I’ve embraced the team aspect of gymnastics, so I just focused all my efforts on helping my teammates.”
Watts will graduate in May with a degree in communications and plans to move to Raleigh.
While her career as a gymnast likely is over, she continues to support the sport and hopes many young children try it as well.
“I think it boils down to the friendships,” Watts said. “The gymnastics community is close-knit and you get the best of both worlds, to compete individually and as part of a team.
“It’s helped make me a better person.”
Matt Kline is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Matt? Email him at Mathew_kline@att.net.