By Mike Deak
SYRACUSE – “When you’ve been around as long as I have, you start to get these awards.”
Nika Prather was all smiles Tuesday night overlooking the sport she is most known, and was given a token of appreciation to the decades she has served.
Wawasee High School and the Northern Lakes Conference as a whole honored Prather Tuesday night with the NLC Outstanding Service Award. In order to receive the award, an individual must serve at least 15 years in administrative and coaching duties within the conference, or 20 years of coaching service. In the case where gymnastics is not a formal NLC sport, the conference still acknowledges gymnastics among its compliment.
“I still care about the girls and their success, and that will never change,” Prather said after the Wawasee dual meet with Warsaw, where she was honored before the start of the meet. “I was very surprised to be getting this award. I honestly thought I would get a plaque or something from the high school, but never from the conference.”
Prather announced in March that she was retiring from her high school coaching position, a week before the world fell on its head amidst the start of the pandemic. Gymnastics competed in the IHSAA State Finals at Ball State a week later, with Prather overseeing Aundreya Wegener as a floor base scorer in an empty Worthen Arena as the last sporting event to take place in the 2019-20 school year.
Prather didn’t fade into the sunset, however, as the great ones rarely do. Prather still oversees the Wawasee Gymnastics Club, the developmental leg of the gymnastics program, and has offered advice and physical assistance with the high school program as new WHS head coach and former Prather gymnast, Molly Liston, takes over in the new era.
“I thought to myself the other day that I feel so lucky to be picking up a program that was cared for by her for all this time,” Liston said. “A program that was so loved. For her, it wasn’t about the gymnastics, it was about the girls. You can see that when she is here, she’s no longer the coach and is still recording the routines. So attentive.”
Prather has also continued on in her work with the Lakeland Youth Center, where she has taught children for decades.
“I’m resigned that this is where I am now,” joked Prather, who did her best to stay separate from the coaching aspect of the meet, but didn’t shy away when the current athletes, or future gymnasts, came up to her for a word or consolation. “I have enjoyed having some free time and not having to be here every night. I was going from school to practice, then to club practice, so it was 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every night for 30-plus years. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss it, but I’m getting used to watching the sport from the other side.”