By Brett Nachtigall
SIOUX FALLS – The South Dakota High School Sports Awards show, produced by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, is part of the USA TODAY High School Sports Awards, the largest high school sports recognition program in the country.
Held June 27 at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls, the show honored more than 200 high school athletes from the state of South Dakota, and for the first time, one of the athletes recognized was from Hot Springs.
Kiera Allen, a former sophomore and soon-to-be junior at Hot Springs High School, was one of 12 gymnasts nominated for the South Dakota Gymnast of the Year. Allen earned that nomination following her performance at the State Gymnastics Individual Championships in Mitchell on Feb. 12, 2022, where she placed third in the Class “A” All-Around competition with a score of 35.45.
The 12 nominees for the South Dakota Gymnast of the Year included the top-7 all-arounders from Class AA and the top-5 all-arounders from Class A. The ultimate winner was Maeve Boetel, a former junior and soon-to-be senior from Sioux Falls O’Gorman, who earned the highest individual all-around score (39.183) of all competitors at the State Championships held in Mitchell in February.
“I thought it was so amazing to be selected as one of the top gymnasts in the state,” said Allen recently. “I felt honored to just be nominated, even if I didn’t win. I got to meet people from other teams and even other sports while I was there and overall it was just a great experience.”
Allen’s nomination for the statewide award capped off a strong season for the sophomore, which included breaking a school record on the uneven bars (9.2) and also helping to lead her team to a Region 2A Championship and a fourth place team finish at the 2022 State Class “A” Championships.
For Kiera and her family – which includes parents Jerrid and Jade Allen, older brother Jaamis and younger brother Camdin – her nomination and subsequent trip to Sioux Falls for the awards show came as quite a surprise, which set up a whirlwind of excitement to start their summer.
“Kiera ended a gymnastics camp in Arizona, and then literally flew home the morning of the 27th. I grabbed her from the airport and we headed straight to Sioux Falls for the big night,” said her mom Jade Allen. “She was exhausted but she was not going to miss out.”
“The show was really fun to watch,” added Jade. “So many student athletes from all over the state were being recognized for so many amazing things. Special guest appearance from Matt Farniok, Dallas Cowboys football player drafted in 2021 out of Nebraska. Farniok, originally from Sioux Falls, provided an inspirational talk with a question and answer session.”
Kiera said she was also very impressed with the overall presentation of the awards show.
“They had lights like at a concert,” Kiera said, while adding that there was a photo area before the show that was free to anyone and their family. “They made sure everyone had a good time and it was very memorable! My most fond memory though is being able to walk across that stage at the very beginning.”
As is the case with many sports, but perhaps even more-so with gymnastics, success at the high school level is the result of starting at a young age, which is certainly the case for Allen.
“Kiera has always been very competitive and has loved gymnastics since she was very little,” Jade said. “Her very first classes were taken right here in Hot Springs with coach Denise Haden; she was only 3-years-old at the time. We moved to Arizona when Kiera was 6. We found a local gym, Arizona Dreams Gymnastics Academy, signed her up for classes and the rest is history.”
Jade said Kiera competed in her very first meet at the age of 7 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“Brestyan’s Las Vegas Invitational is a competition where over 75 prestigious gyms with over 4,000 gymnasts unite at this meet each year,” said Jade. “We were a bit overwhelmed as we had no idea how she would handle that kind of pressure at such a young age. To our surprise, she loved it! At level 3, she walked away with a 4th place All Around that day with a score of 32.575. She was hooked.”
Over the years, Jade said Kiera would continue to set goals and crush them one by one. Spending over 20 hours per week in the gym as well as many private lessons, camps and clinics. “Her dedication was ruthless.”
In 2017, at the Aloha Gymfest in Oahu, Hawaii, then a level 7 gymnast at only 10 years old, Jade said Kiera took second place on all events and also first place in All-Around with a score of 36.875. She finally hit her biggest goal in 2019 becoming the level 8 Arizona State Bars Champion with a score of 9.625, and taking third place in All-Around with a 37.600.
“Unfortunately, we knew this was going to be her last season as she had decided to hang her leotards up and focus on her school commitments,” Jade said. “She qualified for Regionals that same year, going up against the finest gymnasts in all of Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah. She finished her Club gymnastics career taking 7th for bars with a score of 9.375 and 8th place All Around with a 36.775.
Jade said their family thought they were then done with gymnastics, “But thankfully, that was not the case,” she said, as they relocated back to Hot Springs in 2020. Now a freshman in high school and reunited with her old friends, Kiera was convinced to go out for high school gymnastics as part of the Hot Springs Bison program, which includes many different rules and requirements, compared to the competitive club gymnastics scene Kiera was accustomed.
“We both had much to learn,” said Jade. “Her first year was like watching her relearn everything she had been doing for years. It was a bit scary. I think her first meet in Hot Springs, she only scored a 5.00 on bars. She was very rusty. We are grateful for Coach Dana Nachtigall and her commitment to helping Kiera continue to grow. She supports these girls both on and off the mats and continues to push them to be better.”
“When K came to us a couple years ago, the goal was for her to find her love for gymnastics again, as she had been out for a few years from being in the clubs. I believe we did that,” said Hot Springs Bison Gymnastics Coach Dana Nachtigall. “Her skill level comes from her many years in the club, and we are just working on continuing to help her grow as a gymnast and a little human. She’s brought a spark into the gym, and with some amazing teammates who love and support her as well. It’s been fun to watch her and her team grow together and excel. This was a well-deserved nomination for Kiera, and I feel blessed to be called her Coach.”
Looking ahead to her upcoming junior season the Hot Springs Bison gymnastics team, Kiera said, “I hope to break more records and to make it back to the award show next year as well! Being there once is keeping me motivated to be there again! I cannot wait for gymnastics season again and I am just so ready to put some of my new skills out there and can’t wait to be on the floor again!”