As the No. 3 Michigan women’s gymnastics team headed into Sunday’s meet against in-state rival Michigan State, the traditional maize and blue warm-ups were traded in for purple gear.
The team honored Chip Hills, who passed away from stage IV pancreatic cancer before Thanksgiving last year, with a “purple out” at the Crisler Center. Hills was the father of former gymnast and current student coach Callie Hills and a constant presence at gymnastics meets last season.
“I knew he had an impact on the team, but I never knew how big until all of this happened,” the younger Hills said. “It just shows how inspirational he was and how important he was to everyone he met.”
Michigan has emphasized the slogan “Flip for Chip” throughout the 2016 season, as the team also donned purple neck tattoos with the phrase during its Jan. 16 meet against Ohio State.
The Wolverines (4-1 Big Ten, 8-1 overall) used that energy to fuel a dominant performance against the Spartans (1-4, 3-5), who they beat handily, 197.225-195.425. It was Michigan’s second-best score of the season, following last week’s season-high 197.425 in a dual meet against Maryland and Eastern Michigan.
The Wolverines, who have typically struggled most on the beam, made it their strongest event of the day, tallying a score of 49.375. Not a single routine for Michigan scored below a 9.800.
Junior Nicole Artz, who won all-around champion with an impressive score of 39.500, was motivated by the “Flip for Chip” theme.
“We know that he’s watching us and that he’d be very proud of us,” Artz said. “He had a huge impact on this team and continues to have an impact. We’re happy for ourselves and happy for him.”
Michigan coach Bev Plocki also believes Chip’s influence has been felt on the team.
“He showed up at every meet,” Plocki said. “No matter how sick he was, he was there every single time. He was somebody that maintained the most unbelievably positive attitude throughout a really negative situation.
“He wanted everyone around him to find three good things, no matter how bad that day was. That was the kind of person he was.”
Despite the difficult circumstances, Callie believes “Flip for Chip” has strengthened the team both on and off the the floor. Artz called her a great source of positivity and calming presence at the gym.
“My teammates are my family,” Callie said. “It’s a hard situation, but they’ve really banded together and we’ve become so strong. This is the closest team I’ve ever been on, and I’m so blessed to have them.”